PiafPosted on: 02 September 2008 by Gareth Hargreaves
You won't regret catching this play delving into the life of French singing superstar Edith Piaf.
That diminutive singer with the exceptional voice who became a legend in her own lifetime is back on the London stage - that is in the shape of Argentinean singer and former Evita star Elena Roger in Pam Gem's reworking of her 1979 play Piaf (Donmar Warehouse until 20th September, Vaudeville Theatre from 21st October 2008 to 24th January 2009), directed by Jamie Lloyd.
Up To £26 Off Piaf Theatre Tickets
The play begins at the end with Edith Piaf an arthritic bent figure in black and we are then transported back.
The misery of her youth became her repertoire. She was born on the pavement in the Paris suburb of Belleville, with two policemen acting as midwives, was raised by her grandmother who ran a brothel and first sang on Montmartre street corners for a few sous. Her immense voice soon got noticed and she was catapulted into fame but not fortune and she remained poor throughout her life, squandering her earnings on young men and hangers-on.
Gems has compressed the story of 'the little sparrow', as she affectionately became known, whose life was buffeted by drink, drugs and disastrous love affairs, into just over 90 minutes. As a result we only get snapshot vignettes of the men in her life and it can be quite difficult trying to keep up with her succession of lovers.
Yet, despite the fact that this potted biography of possibly the most famous Frenchwoman of all time moves at almost breakneck speed, it is nevertheless a fascinating story, told on virtually a bare stage, which still manages to stir our feelings.
This is largely due to Elena Roger's impressive performance in the title role. Although not bearing the remarkable physical resemblance that Marion Cotillard brought to the role in the film La Vie en Rose, Roger nevertheless exactly captures the spirit, speech and movements of this complex, fragile and enigmatic performer, in what it has to be admitted is a hugely demanding role.
But it is Roger's sensational voice, infusing such memorable songs as Milord, Le Legionnaire, L'Accordeoniste, and, best of all, Je Ne Regrette Rien with such heartfelt emotion that the show really becomes electrifying and we feel for a brief time that Piaf has been reborn.
This certainly is a show you will have no regrets seeing and, judging by the full house at the weekday matinee I attended, looks likely to get transferred to a larger West End theatre.
By Laurence Green
Box office: 0844 412 4663
Donmar Warehouse: www.donmarwarehouse.com
Vaudeville Theatre: www.piafonstage.com
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