Pippi Longstocking – Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Reviewer: James Garrington

Original Music: Stu Barker

Writer: Mike Akers from the books by Astrid Lindgren

Directors: Jesse Jones and Helena Middleton

In the town of Little Town, deep in the middle of nowhere special, everything is ordinary. The people thrive on being absolutely average, it all works like clockwork and everyone is content – except perhaps young Tommy and his sister Annika who worry that it’s maybe a bit boring.

Then one day someone moves into the empty house next door – someone who is far from ordinary and boring. Her name is Pippi Longstocking, and she is the strongest girl in the world – and she is set to change this little town for good.

Based on the books by Astrid Lindgren, this is a show written for a young audience but at the same time carefully put together so it appeals equally to anyone who feels – or who wants to feel – young at heart. It’s full of humour, with some subtle comedy touches that are a delight if you manage to spot them, while at the same time being totally accessible and hugely entertaining for the whole family.

In the title role is Emily-Mae. Her Pippi is how you imagine Pippi must be – full of life, sparkling with energy and good humour, and totally self-reliant. She has a great voice too, and although some of her dialogue with her father (Luke Potter) is lost during the first scene, it soon recovers when they’re not trying to shout over a storm. It’s a portrayal that’s bursting with enthusiasm and perfectly pitched to appeal to the children in the audience. Her character is always trying to avoid submitting to authority and is constantly getting one over the adults in the process, but it’s carefully done and although some of the authority figures end up as figures of fun, it’s done in a very gentle way so they’re never being totally ridiculed.

Surrounding Emily-Mae are seven more actor-musicians. Alex Parry is a slightly pompous Mayor, fiercely proud of his town and its festival and absolutely determined that nothing will go wrong – which it inevitably does. Rowena Lennon is his sensible and pragmatic wife, and their children are played by Matthew Churcher (Tommy) and Philippa Hogg (Annika). Churcher and Hogg create some wonderfully accurate portrayals of children – happily smiling with Pippi, begrudgingly obeying when they’re chastised, and constantly bouncing back and getting into adventures with their new neighbour again. Luke Potter has little to do as Captain Ephraim Longstocking, Pippi’s shipwrecked father – but he makes up for it with his musical and ensemble work.

Finally, we have two cast members whose multi-role skills make both performances a delight. Scott Brooks is a believable Benght, the fourth child in the story, and also a very funny Miss Granberg, whose cake-making demonstration goes a little off-script. Almost stealing the show is Hanora Kamen, in three different roles. Kamen gives us a suitably stern, no-nonsense schoolteacher, and her portrayal of Mr Nilsson, Pippi’s monkey, is beautifully observed, hugely agile and an absolute comic joy. Kamen also plays PC Nyeberg, alongside Brooks as Sergeant Martinsson, as uptight a pair of comedy police officers as you could ever hope to find on a stage.

The music my Stu Barker is not particularly memorable but it’s catchy and appropriate in its context, and the single set designed by Katie Sykes is something that could have come out of a child’s imagination. The set, like the whole production, is simple and unfussy, but it works incredibly well.

It’s a good alternative for a Christmas theatre trip if you want to avoid the more usual style of panto.

Runs until 31 December 2019 Image: Manuel Harlan

Review Overview

The Reviews Hub Score

Good family entertainment

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The Central team is under the editorship of Selwyn Knight. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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