Pinot! – The Musical at the New Wimbledon Theatre Studio, London. The show returns to the venue from 13-17 June.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
The joy of Theatre In Education is that, in general, the rules of musical theatre can be put to one side. Dramatic structure, narrative musical numbers and character analysis carry less weight against a learning to entertainment ratio.
Pinot! – The Musical may seem like an unlikely title for a piece of children’s theatre, but Marie Atallah’s story is pure whimsy, with a nod toward Sesame Street and CBeebies.
Set in Paris, it tells the story of an illegal Russian immigrant with an ambition to win the Tour de France. Atallah’s Paris is a destination for all dreamers, but far from focusing on the usual Parisian clichés of desperately chic housewives and fine dining, her story is narrated by a beggar and a bag lady, first seen on the concourse of Eurostar.
Sneaking past a very lax security, Petrov Popov changes his name to Pinot Blanc and engages with the locals until he can fulfil his dream of cycle stardom.
To help him, he has befriended two whirling Cossacks and two very bored rival gangs. Yes, it is that weird. But it is also terribly charming, and despite the element of rote and repetition in the songs, they happen to be quite catchy.
Deborah Swain’s direction and choreography is definitely chirpy, and while there’s little subtlety in the song interpretation, there is bags of energy and a keen sense of rhythm in the dance.
Not least from Tyler Kennington and Julian David Lewis, who throw themselves about the stage with alarming freedom as the two Cossacks.
Beyond these Slavic interludes, the musical influences range from rap to calypso via straightforward ballads, and while the lyrics are by no means complex, they do teach basic French in a fun way.
There’s an alphabet rap and a prison sentence, where we learn how to count the days and the months. This may not be the place to learn how to conjugate an irregular verb, but you will walk away with more than a smattering of nouns and the odd adverb.
An enthusiastic ensemble makes for some memorable moments including the ticket collection number and, of course, the Tour de Paris finale.
Luke Farrugia as Petrov/Pinot provides resonant vocals, but it’s his amiable stage presence that makes him a hit with the kids.
Tiffany Parker and Jordan Ellaych as the Bag Lady and Beggar Man have a good rapport as dual narrators, but ultimately the fun here is in Atallah’s whimsical script.
I was reminded of more than a few old phrases from my school days and it was heartening to hear a much younger audience embracing the Gallic singalong chorus.