by Pam Gems.
Octagon Theatre Howell Croft South BL1 1TN To 15 June 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.30pm Mat 12. 15 June 2pm.
Audio-described 13 June.
Runs 2hr 35min One interval.
TICKETS: 01204 520661.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 7 June.
Revealing more about the singer than the song.
Theatres can provide instructive comparisons. In late February Leicester’s Curve revived Pam Gems’ 1978 play, which takes the French megastar from tough days singing in Parisian streets to tough nights of stardom ravaged by drugs.
Paul Kerryson’s Leicester production and Elizabeth Newman’s Bolton revival play it different ways visually. The Expressionist street scene which dominated in the Midlands emphasised width, while Ciaran Bagnall at the Octagon stresses height, with a platform atop a spiral staircase.
It’s here, remote from the audience, that Piaf makes her framing, end-of-career, drug-raddled attempts to perform, a figure soon whisked away from her eminence, as opposed to the diagonal curtain which placed her next to the front rows in Curve. And Caroline Faber’s off-stage Piaf, down at floor-level, is kept separate from the star image.
There was more music at Leicester, generally more finely sung, and with plentiful piano underscoring away from the songs. The payoff here is a voice that maintains the earthy origin of a struggling woman with one supreme asset. And theres’ no doubt there’s a gain in dramatic depth with Faber’s taut, intelligent performance, which keeps track of each scene’s emotional pitch, and trajectory, never substituting surface emotionalism.
Newman seems keen to show Piaf as a survivor who’s always one resource away from being a victim. Her early scene asserting herself in the company of her new backers is played-down, with Piaf’s most famous line, and act, of defiance excised.
As Toine, her friend from rough days, Kate Coogan leaves the emotional depth to Faber but presents a finely-outlined picture of a forceful woman whose ways will never change. What her life’s like is made clear in a grotesque scene of street sex early in the play.
It’s with the men who crash in and out of Piaf’s life, whether soldiers or lovers, that playing becomes anonymous. The singer’s role in the Nazi Occupation is barely observed and the emotional needs the young generation of chanteurs she brings home supply are never developed.
Still, the songs remain great, and Faber delivers them, and the complex, tragic Piaf with dignity and verve.
Emil/Lucien/Theo/Louis: Iestyn Arwel.
American Officer/Boxer/Police Inspector/Bruno/Legionnaire: Colin Connor.
Toine: Kate Coogan.
Louise Leplée/Butcher/Barman/Referee: Danny Cunningham.
Edith Piaf: Caroline Faber.
Little Louis/Charles/Germ an Soldier/American Sailor: Christopher Hancock.
Jean/Marcel Cerdan/American MC/Yves/Doctor: Kieran Hill.
Nurse/Pierre/Georges/Pusher: Graham Lappin.
Eddie/American Sailor/German Soldier/Monsieur Vaimbert: Eamonn Riley.
Marlene Dietrich/Madeleine: Lynda Rooke.
Director: Elizabeth Newman.
Designer/Lighting: Ciaran Bagnall.
Sound: Andy Smith.
Musical Director: Ben Occhipinti.
Movement: Lesley Hutchison.
Fight director: Terry King.
Assistant director: Kieran Hill.