Review: Pepperland @ The Lowry, Salford

“We hope you have enjoyed the show”, musician Clinton Curtis sung to all those present at The Lowry on Friday, concluding this innovative take on one of The Beatles’ masterpieces with a homage to the timeless title track on Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band.

The theatre was hit by a vibrant array of warmth, colour and energy, a performance less about the group’s music than it was about choreography, creativity and sheer originality.

The truth is, Pepperland isn’t really about The Beatles. Granted, the soundtrack to accompany this spellbinding, one-hour dancing bonanza was – in loose terms – adapted versions of the tracks on the group’s groundbreaking 1967 album, but the reality is that Mark Morris’ creation represents more of a celebration of something completely different.

Despite composer Ethan Iverson’s inventive new score, this was all about the dance. For an uninterrupted hour, The Lowry audience were hooked by Morris’ idiosyncratically-designed routines, allowing his performers to express their creativity and produce a display that pays homage to The Beatles in a way never done so before.

If you came to the theatre expecting an identifiable tribute to The Beatles that merely recycled Sgt. Pepper’s most iconic tracks, think again. Morris’ routines were accompanied by compositions that – at times – bore little resemblance to the group’s music, haunting renditions of songs that progressed at the perfect tempo to keep us all captivated throughout the show’s duration.

That said, this was still a fitting tribute to the world’s most influential pop group. 52 years on from the release of the album, Pepperland perfectly captured the warmth, joy, buoyancy and charm that The Beatles brought us all, sprinkled with a hint of those psychedelic influences that become increasingly associated with their later work.

Taking a broadly chronological format throughout the album, Morris’ production opened with a unique rendition of its title track. On stage, the show’s 15 dancers jumped, swayed and marched in their distinctly jaunty fashion, immediately engaging all those in the auditorium and ensuring their attention for the rest of proceedings.

Then came the Ringo Starr-sung With a Little Help From My Friends, preceded by the dancers diligently assembling in an attempt to mimic that brilliant album cover designed by Sir Peter Blake. By this stage, it had become more than apparent this was not your run-of-the-mill Beatles tribute – but the audience were compelled.

Following its upbeat beginnings, the production began to enter its more psychedelic, drug-inspired phase, reflecting the augmented influence that hallucinogenics started to have on the group as the 1960s – and the album – progressed. George Harrison’s Within You Without You was accompanied by a captivatingly-choreographed routine, instilling a the show was a different, slightly eerier edge.

But the joyousness of The Beatles swiftly returned. The routine during during Iverson’s adapted version of Penny Lane – not a track on Sgt Pepper but also released in 1967 – was glorious, an exhibition in choreographical creativity that took the audience back to a united society where there were no fears of Brexit or economic hardship.

The production would not have been complete without a poignant rendition of A Day in the Life, the album’s closing track and undoubtedly its most influential. Here, the routines were more evocative than ever, with Morris allowing his performers to stand in unison and sing the track’s chorus together.

And, in what seemed like an instant, the hour was up, in many ways reflecting the epoch in which The Beatles dominated that came and went far too quickly. Morris himself made an appearance on stage before staying behind for an insightful question and answer session, enabling the audience to shine a light on the many hours of work that went into producing such a distinctively original performance.

In response to Curtis’ closing wishes, I think it’s safe to say that yes, we all enjoyed the show.

*Pepperland is showing at The Lowry, Salford until Saturday, March 30. You can buy tickets HERE.

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