Tuesday, 15 December 2015

Piaf at the Charing Cross Theatre ★★★★

Cameron Leigh as Piaf ©Gabriel Szalontai 
This year marks the century of the iconic French chanteuse Edith Piaf. To celebrate, Charing Cross theatre unleashes Pam Gem's play, Piaf, directed by Jari Laakso, which was first staged in 1978. The play is quite an eye opener. It pulls away the glamour of Piaf's singing career for the part of Piaf’s life that we are not so familiar with.

As much as she was the Carnegie Hall super star, the play describes Piaf's earlier poverty-stricken life, as potty-mouthed Édith Giovanna Gassion, brought up by prostitutes, and addicted to alcohol and drugs. 

Piaf (Leigh) with husband, Marcel (Zac Hamilton) ©Gabriel Szalontai 
The script is clear-cut. The scenes move from episode to episode of her traumatic life. They are neatly interlinked with her record-breaking songs including Padam, Padam and La Vie en Rose. It’s what keep the play musically alive alongside Cameron Leigh’s perfect performance of the international cabaret star.

The talented performer-musicians are also strong forces on stage, playing several roles in Piaf’s tragic journey. Stephanie Prior is impressive as Marlene Dietrich as well as Piaf's nurse. Samatha Spurgin is brilliant as Piaf's old time friend from the brothel, Toine. 

Leigh with Brian Gilligan, Mal Hall, Zac Hamilton, Philip Murray Warson and Kit Smith ©Gabriel Szalontai 
Brian Gilligan, Mal Hall, Zac Hamilton, Philip Murray Warson and Kit Smith add dashes of humour and electricity to the production, performing a variety of male roles that ruled Piaf's life including German soldiers in WWII, doctors, Louis Leplée (the club owner who discovered Piaf), Theo (her last husband) and police detectives who suspected her of murder. 

Leigh is the tour de force of the show. She nails the title role vocally, characteristically and physically. If you ever wanted to know what Piaf was like in real life, Leigh is your best bet. She can re-enact her every emotion effortless. Seeing her perform Non, je ne regrette rien is a gut-wrenching experience. Many members of the audience had tears in their eyes. However, one wonders if she really was as coarse as Gem depicts her - with an East London cockney accent but, just, the French version.

Scenes where Piaf discovers her husband, Marcel Cerdan had died in a plane crash or suffers from a car crash in 1951, with broken arm and ribs, are convincingly performed by Leigh. The audience pity Piaf's hard life.

If you’re a fan of Piaf, get a ticket now. Cameron Leigh's performance is simply mind-blowing.

Piaf (Leigh) with Toine (Samantha Spurgin)

Currently showing at the www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk until January 2nd. Click on the link to purchase tickets. 

Director: Jari Laakso; Musical Arrangement and Supervision: Isaac McCullough; Movement Director: Katya Bourvis; Designer: Philippa Batt; Lighting Designer: Chris Randall.
 is produced by Gillian Tan, Blackwinged Creatives, Steven M. Levy and Sean Sweeney.

For more theatre reviews on Trend Fem,
click here. 
Dress rehearsal of Cavalleria Rusticana / Pagliacci at the Royal Opera House (Dec 2015)

Tom Stoppard, Hampstead Theatre (Dec 2015)

Henry V, The Royal Shakespeare Company, the Barbican (Nov 2015)

Harold Pinter's The Homecoming, Trafalgar Studio (November 2015)