by Pam Gems.
Charing Cross Theatre
The Arches, Villiers Street, London WC12N 6NL to 2 January 2016.
Tues-Sat 7.30pm. Mat Wed & Thur 2.30pm Sat 3pm.
No performances 25 & 31 December.
Runs 2hr 25 mins One interval.
TICKETS: 020 7930 5868.
Review: William Russell 12 December.
This Sparrer can sing.
The sole reason for seeing this celebrated 1979 play about Edith Piaf yet again, although for the life of me I cannot see why it is celebrated, is the performance by Cameron Leigh as the little sparrow. She is a bit too much of the Cockney sparrer at times – there is no attempt to pretend to be French by any of the cast nor in Gems’ dialogue – but the songs are sung in French and she sings them with just the right raw passion.
Piaf is there in spirit while Leigh is singing, although at times she is perhaps a little bit too much of the grotesque in her mannerisms. Not that Piaf was a lady in any sense of the word. She never really left the streets she came from.
Leigh seizes the role with relish and carries the show to success. This is in spite of Gems’ book which is a pretty flimsy peg for what proves to be another of those back catalogue shows by numbers. It is possible to make a thrilling drama out of Piaf’s life, as La Vie En Rose, the film starring Marion Cotillard, proved, but it does not happen here and the thrills come purely from Ms Leigh.
Piaf had an amazing life rising from street singer to iconic star whose famous lovers came and went, here played by actors who neither sound nor look like any of them, while she knocked back booze and drugs and behaved badly.
There is plenty talent up on stage, but none of the men get roles to flesh out from the script and there is so much doubling it gets visually confusing especially as the love of her life, a then famous boxer, means nothing today. On the plus side the actor musicians provide Ms Leigh with the support she needs, but there have been better productions of what is a trivial play whose resurrection seems pointless. Better by far just to sing Piaf and be done with it.
Marlene/Madeleine/Nurse: Valerie Cutko
Bruno/Eddie/American Sailor/Jacques/Dope Pusher: Brian Gilligan.
Charles/Legionnaire/Jean Raymond/Georges: Mal Hall.
Marcel/Emil/Police Inspector/American Sailor/Yves: Zac Hamilton.
Edith Piaf: Cameron Leigh.
Louis/Little Louis/German Soldier/Lucien/Theo: Philip Murray Warson.
Accordionist/Understudy Marlene: Stephanie Prior.
Louis Leplee/German Soldier/American Officer/Doctor/Monsieur Vambert: Kit Smith.
Toine/Understudy Piaf: Samantha Spurgin.
Director: Jari Laakso.
Musical Director: Mal Hall.
Designer: Philippa Batt.
Lighting Designer: Chris Randall.
Sound Designer: Joshua Robins.
Musical Supervisor & Arrangements: Isaac McCullough.
Movement Director: Katya Bourvis.