by Pam Gems.
Curve Theatre 60 Rutland Street LE1 1SB To 16 March 2013.
Mon-Sat 7.45pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.30pm.
Runs 2hr 30min One interval.
extra performances 3-6 April 2013.
Wed-Sat 7.30pm Mat Thu & Sat 2.15pm.
TICKETS: 0116 242 3595.
Review: Timothy Ramsden 26 February.
Visual and musical strengths in reliable revival.
French singer Edith Piaf (a surname her early promoters foisted on her) died 50 years ago. Playwright Pam Gems wrote this stage biography 15 years later, in the heyday of modern feminism.
What then seemed modern now seems stolidly predictable, from the quick opening, with young Edith Gassion singing for money in Parisian streets and being picked up by a music promoter, starting out on a career that took her through several men to dependency on drugs and collapse on stage. Her initial assertion to the men who stood around ignoring, while talking about, her was boldly vulgar in 1978, her determination and waywardness in fame aspects of a tough battle against the stresses commerce and fame foist on individual women.
Piaf’s tough street origins contrast German singer Marlene Dietrich’s conscious manipulations. Yet by comparison with her early energy, the chemically-raddled later Piaf, creating lone dressing-room moments to shoot-up drugs, and a serial car-crash victim, is harder to take. Despite the wealth and reputation she makes things happen less than in the early days.
Paul Kerryson’s Curve revival lets Frances Ruffelle show Piaf’s force as a singer; even short song bursts receive applause. That points to the production’s limitation. Music aside, it tells the story clearly, but doesn’t counter the play as a voyage through the singer’s adult life with few chances to stop-off and explore. Only Laura Pitt-Pulford as Toine, Piaf’s early friend, who joins the list of abused and cast-aside when called-on after years and coming loyally to visit, creates light and shade in her character, through half thrown-away lines or facial expressions which swiftly tell their own counter-story to the words spoken.
Yet Ruffelle follows the main line of Piaf clearly, determined hands-on-hip stiffness growing alongside later agonies, showing her only really at home on stage. The men flit by as in her life, callous or caring, always kept at a distance. And there is plenty of light and shade in Simon Scullion’s set, its diagonal curtain never completely separating stage from life, and textured walls creating a hostile coldness under the shafts of Arnim Friess’s lighting.
Edith Piaf: Frances Ruffelle.
Toine: Laura Pitt-Pulford/Julia Hills (3-6 April).
Marlene/Madelein: Tiffany Graves.
Louis Leplee/Bruno: Dale Rapley.
Marcel: Oliver Boot/Taylor James (2-6 April).
Charles: Stephen Webb.
Yves: Jason Denton.
Theo: Russell Morton.
Louis: Sean Dodds.
Director: Paul Kerryson.
Designer: Simon Scullion.
Lighting/Video: Arnim Friess.
Sound: Ben Harrison.
Orchestrator/Musical Director: Ben Atkinson.
Costume: Siobhan Boyd.