Pepperland review: “…sharp, snappy, zippy, trippy”

Richard Lutz takes the yellow submarine to Pepperland.

It’s hitting the national tour trail two years late (Sgt Pepper went on sale in 1967) but this snappy and brief production is 100% gold.

Pepperland, which took over the Birmingham Hippodrome for two nights this week, isn’t a schlock tribute show. And it isn’t a cloying attempt to stage the great little stories encapsulated by the 52 year old album. That would be trite and a cop out.

Choreographer Mark Morris instead got copyright deals on six songs and hired jazz composer Ethan Iverson to put a 21st century twist on them. What you get is a big colourful zesty production that takes it own little trippy take on the classics with a little help from a live contemporary orchestra.

Each song is treated differently and with aplomb. When I’m 64 is an old fashioned chorus line with the mod-dressed dancers slowly falling behind the bump and grind music and literally falling over themselves with exhaustion. Penny Lane is a bright blue portrait of commuterland but vibrantly re-created as a psychedelic experience in super realism. And A Day in a Life is a whirlwind of movement as Morris puts a sweeter feel to its original monumental explosion.

Costumes are bright and cheerful – more Carnaby Street that hippy to reflect that mid-sixties London world. Set design is minimal to underscore the continual movement with only a crinkly tin foil like background that at times resembles the twinkle of a big cityscape.

In under an hour, it’s sharp and short. After all, as Morris explains, the whole album is only 47 minutes, anyway. So he’s giving you thirteen extra minutes of dance, and it’s a zippy dance that is hard not to enjoy.