PIAF – Charing Cross Theatre

In London theatre, Opinion, Plays, Reviews by Laura KresslyLeave a Comment

Charing Cross Theatre – until 2 January 2016

Icon Edith Piaf inspired numerous films and plays, including 1978 play with music, Piaf. The four foot, 8 inches tall chanteuse from a broken home died at just 47, but left a songbook often heard in popular culture. These songs, which feature heavily, epitomise the defiant spirit of a France under attack, painfully relevant today.

Addicted to drink and painkillers, the little sparrow must have struggled immensely with her inner demons but Pam Gems’ script avoids such nuance, for her or any of the other characters. Cameron Leigh’s belter of a voice reveals Piaf’s passion and turmoil through her songs, and the rest of the cast provide good vocal support, but Gems’ diabolically awful book manages to be rushed, tedious and two-dimensional all at once.

Portrayed as a nymphomaniac, selfish junkie who treats people as commodities, there is little room for audience sympathy in the first half. The scenes are short and delivered with an even, speedy pace; it’s as if director Jari Laakso feels uncomfortable with Piaf’s poor characterization and the gaping jumps in time that leave even the most important of events glossed over, and he wants to get to the interval ASAP. The second half marginally improves as Piaf’s health declines and she is seen as frail, vulnerable and poor. A few of the lines get laughs, as the humour is less distasteful than earlier in the play.

Cameron Leigh is an explosive barrage of rudeness as Edith Piaf and clearly struggles to find any decency in her what with her portrayal in the script. Instead, she wisely focuses on revealing the character’s emotional life in her songs, the best feature of this play. Backed up by her best friend Toine (Samantha Spurgin), Marlene Dietrich (the imposingly glam Valerie Cutko) and an array of multi-rolling men and actor-musos, their vocal prowess makes this show bearable. It’s a small cast for the number of characters, but there is some good physical multi-rolling and costume indications help make up for scarcity in the dialogue.

Laakso and the cast energetically do their best, but the primary issue in Piaf is Gems atrocious script. Otherwise, the songs are well sung, the production suits the theatre well and the set (Phillipa Batt) and lighting (Chris Randall) are well considered and often striking. It’s just a shame about the constraints of the rest of it and Gems isn’t alive to re-write it.

The Play’s The Thing UK is an independent theatre criticism website maintained voluntarily. Whilst donations are never expected, they are hugely appreciated and will enable more time to be spent reviewing theatre productions of all sizes. Click here to make a donation with PayPal.

 

Laura Kressly on RssLaura Kressly on Twitter
Laura Kressly
Laura is a US immigrant who has lived in the UK since 2004. Originally trained as an actor with a specialism in Shakespeare, she enjoyed many pre-recession years working as a performer, director and fringe theatre producer. When the going got too tough, she took a break to work in education as a support worker, then a secondary school drama teacher. To keep up with the theatrical world, she started reviewing for Everything Theatre and Remotegoat in 2013. In 2015, Laura started teaching part time in order to get back into theatre. She is now a freelance fringe theatre producer and runs her independent blog, theplaysthethinguk.com.
Read more...

Tags: , , , , , , , ,

Laura Kressly on RssLaura Kressly on Twitter
Laura Kressly
Laura is a US immigrant who has lived in the UK since 2004. Originally trained as an actor with a specialism in Shakespeare, she enjoyed many pre-recession years working as a performer, director and fringe theatre producer. When the going got too tough, she took a break to work in education as a support worker, then a secondary school drama teacher. To keep up with the theatrical world, she started reviewing for Everything Theatre and Remotegoat in 2013. In 2015, Laura started teaching part time in order to get back into theatre. She is now a freelance fringe theatre producer and runs her independent blog, theplaysthethinguk.com.

Leave a Comment