Piaf- Charing Cross Theatre, London

Writer:Pam Gems

Director:Jari Laakso

Reviewer: Cavelle Leigh

Piaf tells the story of the once legendary woman Edith Piaf (played to perfection by Cameron Leigh), whose life, relatively short at just forty-seven was full of more drama than one cares to imagine. Raised in a brothel by her grandmother, following her mother’s abandonment at birth, she is understandably common, uncouth, and rather vulgar.

It begins in said brothel where alongside Toine (Samantha Spurgin), she sells herself and indeed her soul. Commendable is her resilence and sense of humour in the darkest of times, attributes that would carry her towards her tragic end. It is here that she is spotted, like a diamond in the rough by suave nightclub owner Louis Leplee (Kit Smith) who gave her the enduring moniker ‘little sparrow’, one at odds with such a powerful voice. The piece is scattered with songs demonstrating her wonderful voice and impressive range, some in French, some in English, all of them captivating. A pleasure was The Three Bells, sung accompanied only by a male ensemble.

Like so many who achieve such fame and fortune, seemingly overnight, Piaf found herself a fish out of water, used and exploited by those around her and soon succumbed to ‘the juice’ and the drugs. Her mental decline is visually and quite frighteningly portrayed in Bravo Pour le Clown. The love of her life dying unexpectedly, and injuries sustained in a car crash, would only exacerbate these problems, and ultimately destroy her once glittering career, afterall ‘Who wants some c**t looking like a war widow when you can have fucking Doris Day?’

Harrowing is that from once being France’s national pride her life would end so sorrowfully, destroyed by substance abuse. Happiness can be found in the loyalty shown by her first husband Jacques (Brian Gilligan) and fellow singer Charles (Mal Hall) who so wanted her to recover. With her at the very end was long suffering Toine, the one constant in her life and her adoring second husband Theo (Phillip Murray Wilson). Peacefully she dies and of course they saved the best ‘til last. Non, Je ne Regret Rien was sung faultlessly- we were before the great Edith Piaf.

Moments of comedy were dispersed throughout, in particular the foul mouthed banter between Toine and Piaf, Piaf’s unladylike mannerisms and her husband’s exasperation at seeing them. The stage was convincing of ol’ Paris, and its dim-lit cafe culture, with the vintage costume very befitting of the WWII era in which the play is set.

Piaf feels that writer Pam Gems tries to include a little too much of her life into the play, with some parts seeming rather hurried as a result. It probably would have benefited more by focusing on more pivotal moments of her life. However despite the obvious flaws in the writing, this is a captivating production that deserves to be seen,

Runs until Saturday 2nd January 2016

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