REVIEW: Children enthralled by the tale of feisty and free Pippi on Northampton stage

Anna Brosnan reviews Pippi Longstocking at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Monday, 16th December 2019, 5:05 pm
Updated Monday, 16th December 2019, 5:06 pm
Matt Churcher as Tommy, Emily-Mae as Pippi Longstocking and Philippa Hogg as Annika. Picture: Manuel Harlan

Primary aged children are nowadays rarely seen wandering alone and, if they were, there may be some serious questions asked of parents.

This is all right and proper in the 21st century, but rewind to the 1940s and to Astrid Lindgren's feisty, free and completely independent creation, Pippi Longstocking, and we have a depiction of a very different kind of experience.

Accompanied by two primary school pupils of today (my daughter and her friend), I went along to Royal & Derngate in Northampton on Friday evening to enjoy the latest production of Pippi Longstocking.

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Somehow, despite having been an avid reader as a child, I have never before read about Pippi and her swashbuckling adventures, so my young companions and I were completely bowled over by this energetic tale about 'the strongest girl in the world'.

For those unfamiliar with the story, Pippi is the daughter of a pirate who has disappeared at sea. Her mother has passed away, leaving the heroine completely alone, apart from her sidekick monkey Mr Nilsson.

Pippi then makes her way home to her father's house in Littletown, a sensible place where "everything runs like clockwork" and her presence acts as a welcome bulldozer to the placid, predicable way of life there.

From the very first scene, through to the final one, the story and terrific cast held us captivated and keen to find out more about this strange, solitary nine-year-old.

Pippi is no easy part to play but Emily-Mae is fantastic in the role, carrying out energetic dance sequences, belting out catchy and breathtakingly fast songs, performing slapstick comedy and even delivering lines at one point while standing on her hands.

I glanced over at the little girls next to me a couple of times and at one point they were sitting with mouths open as they watched the action, giggling loudly and generally heckling as they became drawn into the action.

Emily-Mae also managed to sensitively convey the quieter, more reflective side to Pippi's character which can be seen in some moments when it is obvious she sees and feels how alone she is and possibly longs for an attachment to something.

For those people looking to see something at the theatre that will make them smile and will act as an antidote to wintry gloom, Pippi Longstocking is definitely it.

Emily-Mae is supported by a fine cast of actors, with each member taking on multiple roles as well as playing a part of the ever-present on-stage band.

Brilliant performances also came from Hanora Kamen who showed great comedic timing as the monkey and was fantastically deadpan as the funny and ineffectual police officer PC Nyeberg.

The songs throughout the play are full of energy and punch - definitely tunes people will be singing to themselves for days after seeing a performance.

This production of Pippi Longstocking definitely comes with a hefty helping of cheer. It is very funny as well as poignant and I think this character still offers some healthy escapism for children, even today.

* Pippi Longstocking will finish its run in Northampton on December 31. Visit royalandderngate.co.uk to book.