‘There’ve been so many pieces about Edith Piaf; this one is unique because of the songs sung in English’: Elizabeth Mansfield on Hymn to Love

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Twenty years after she first played her, Elizabeth Mansfield returns to the role of Edith Piaf in a revised version of hit homage Hymn to Love, opening tonight (27 July 2018) at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre after sell-outs on tour. In our interview below, Mansfield tells us more about her incredible journey with The Little Sparrow and how singing her classic torch songs in English changes everything…

Hymn to Love transfers to Jermyn Street

‘A compelling portrait’ (The Stage) of one of France’s most notable singers, Hymn to Love sees Olivier-nominated actress Elizabeth Mansfield reprise her performance as Edith Piaf (1915-1963) for a strictly limited London season at Jermyn Street Theatre from  25 July to 18 August 2018, with a press night on 27 July.

Hymn to Love centres on one particular incident in Piaf’s life, which came to express all of her loss and longing: the death of her lover, Marcel Cerdan, killed in a plane crash on his way to watch her sing. She heard the news of his death whilst rehearsing for the show, but went on stage anyway, dedicating her performance to him.

Charting the incident and its effects through different times in her life, Hymn to Love interweaves performances of fifteen of Piaf’s most famous, instantly recognisable songs spanning a three-decade career, to create an emotionally charged and deeply moving piece of theatre. Mansfield co-devised the show, first seen in 1998, with husband Steve Trafford, who wrote the play and translated the songs into English, giving a rare chance to hear the passion and poetry of Piaf’s music.

The show is co-produced by Theatre by the Lake and York Theatre Royal in association with Ensemble and directed by Damian Cruden, York Theatre Royal’s artistic director.

Hymn to Love runs from 25 July to 18 August 2018 at the Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6ST. Performances are Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3.30pm. Tickets are priced £30 (concessions £20). CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!


Mansfield with Patrick Bridgeman in Hymn to Love

Talking to… Elizabeth Mansfield

In addition to Hymn to LoveElizabeth Mansfield‘s many other stage performance credits include playing English music hall singer Marie Lloyd in Marie in the West End, for which she was nominated for a Best Actress Olivier Award. But it’s her Edith Piaf that may well be remembered as her career-defining role, one that she returns to now twenty years on from when Hymn to Love first premiered at Mercury Theatre Colchester before seasons at the Edinburgh Fringe and London’s Drill Hall.

Why do you think Edith Piaf is special?

Edith Piaf

She inspired a generation of wonderful songwriters to write specifically for her… about her unique stories, her passions, her loves and losses. Piaf’s songs are compelling and universal. They live on beyond the ‘little sparrow’ with the power to touch and move us still.

How did Hymn to Love first come about?

We wanted to unlock the meaning of the songs for an English-speaking audience, to translate them and frame them in a way that revealed them as Piaf’s own narrative. Steve Trafford (the writer) had the idea of taking a moment in time… the news of her lover Marcel Cerdan‘s death… as a touchstone and we worked from there. Steve and I have worked together on all Ensemble’s productions (our theatre company). I love his work and it’s always a privilege to perform it.

Do you have a favourite Piaf song?

It’s hard to pick one out, so many of them are extraordinary. There are thirteen songs in the show including ‘La Belle Histoire d’Amour’, ‘La Vie en Rose’, ‘La Foule’, ‘Padam, Padam’, ‘L’Accordéoniste’, ‘Mon Légionnaire’… But I’ll choose ‘Milord’.

Piaf, cast as a prostitute in this song, spots a posh man, a ‘Milord’, in the crowd with a beautiful ‘belle’ on his arm… later his ‘belle’ has left him and the singer offers him comfort, recognising his pain as if it were her own. It’s the way she tries to lift him out of his despair, lifting herself as she does, that makes the song so incredibly powerful

Theatre by the Lake in Keswick, Cumbria

Why did you want to revive Hymn to Love 20 years later?

Conrad Lynch from Theatre by the Lake asked us if we’d be interested. We were thrilled! Conrad worked with us on the show all those years before at the Drill Hall. When Damian Cruden from York Theatre Royal said he’d direct and the project became a co-production between those two great producing houses, we were doubly thrilled. Damian is a wonderful director.

Has your approach changed doing Hymn to Love in 2018 vs 1998?

Yes, of course… I’m all those years older! For a start, we re-framed the piece so that the news of Marcel’s death is a remembered trauma for Piaf, triggered by being back in New York to sing. Damian’s new production is eerily atmospheric. Haunted by her memories, Piaf grapples her way towards performing a concert, held and supported by her pianist who listens and listens, sometimes leading, sometimes goading her into song. Patrick Bridgman is consummate in this role, and it’s been a joy to reinterpret the role with him.

Any anecdotes from the pre-London run?

The show sold out everywhere and we played to incredibly appreciative audiences throughout the run at Theatre by the Lake, at York Theatre Royal and on tour. This felt extraordinary and was an absolute joy! Memorably, on tour, we played in the beautiful old church at Norham, Berwick on Tweed (famous for Constable’s painting ‘Norham Castle on the Tweed’). Norham was plastered with little signs saying’ FOR ONE NIGHT ONLY – YOUR CHURCH IS A FRENCH CAFE!’ And so it was, pews removed, chequered tablecloths on cabaret-style tables and seating, and the vicar welcoming his pal, who was an atheist, into the church for the first time!

Jermyn Street Theatre

How do you feel bringing the show back to London?

I love London. It’s my hometown so, of course, it’s great to be here, and I hope London audiences will enjoy the show. There have been so many pieces made about Edith Piaf, but this one is unique because of the songs being sung in English. The translations are fantastic by the way – even Piaf’s original French lyricists and composers (the ones still alive) were bowled over by Steve’s work.

Jermyn Street is a beautiful little venue – a perfect fit for the production. It’s also air-conditioned, which has been a real bonus in this heatwave! It’s amazing to pop up out of the tube at Piccadilly Circus and be there in five. The Jermyn Street team are fab too, so everything’s to like.

Hymn to Love runs from 25 July to 18 August 2018 at the Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London SW1Y 6ST. Performances are Tuesdays to Saturdays at 7.30pm, with Saturday and Sunday matinees at 3.30pm. Tickets are priced £30 (concessions £20). CLICK HERE TO PURCHASE!

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Press Releases on Twitter
Press Releases
MyTheatreMates publishes a selection of daily press releases sent to us by publicists of the relevant show or theatre. We are not responsible for any inaccuracies contained within these materials.