With Greta Thunberg being celebrated as Time Magazine’s Person of the Year, it feels fitting to hail another uniquely intrepid Swedish girl this Christmas.
In his adaptation of Astrid Lindgren’s riotous Pippi Longstocking stories, Mike Akers emphasises the ‘Little Town’ setting. Represented by Katie Sykes’ Scandi-minimalist set and presided over by Mayor Settegren (Alex Parry) – the perfect pompous authority figure – everything is idyllically average and, for its younger residents, just a bit boring.
As the anything-but-boring nine-year-old Pippi who grew up on a pirate ship and never learned the rules of ‘proper’ behaviour’, the high-kicking and powerful-voiced Emily-Mae is terrific, a joyfully innocent anarchist with a creative approach to conflict resolution and on-trend use of found materials.
Most importantly, she brings friendship and fun into the lives of Tommy and Annika (Matt Churcher and Philippa Hogg), her slightly Stepford next-door neighbours with their fixed smiles and matching plaid outfits.
The opening shipwreck is a tad underpowered and the introduction to Little Town takes too long but once Jesse Jones and Helena Middleton’s production hits its stride, it’s non-stop fun. Stu Barker’s catchy ‘gypsy swing’ and folky score is a real team effort performed by an ensemble of multitasking actor-musicians, in which everyone gets a chance to shine.
The cast’s easy-going rapport with the audience inspires a very lively and engaged crowd keen to help nudge the action along, even causing Mayor Settegren to comment that the pantomime takes place next door. 75 years after she first appeared in print, Pippi’s subversive streak remains irresistible.