Pam Gems‘ musical ‘Piaf‘ came to life in 1980, starring a young Imelda Staunton in the title role. Now, forty years later, the production is back at the Nottingham Playhouse, starring Jenna Russell and last night, the show was broadcast live online for one night only.
Piaf, abandoned by her mother at birth, was raised by her grandmother, who ran a brothel in Normandy, France. At the age of fourteen, she began touring with her father in an acrobatic street performance act where she would sing, which earned her enough money to live. At nineteen, Piaf was discovered and went on to become one of the highest paid female singers of her time. But illness and several car crashes caused Piaf to turn to drugs which impacted on her performance and the downfall of her career, eventually ending her life at the age of forty-seven.
Featuring some of Piaf’s timeless songs like Autumn Leaves, L’Accordeoniste, Milord, La Vie en Rose, Mon Dieu, Hymne a L’Amour and of course, Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, Jenna Russell sings to perfection, with perfect pronunciation (so much so that if you close you eyes you would think you are listening to the real Piaf). The songs are sung in a mixture of French and English, to allow audiences to understand the stories being told.
The show itself is performed in English, with Piaf adopting a cockney accent with blue language to demonstrate what life would have been like for her at that time.
Jenna Russell is total perfection as Piaf. She is one of the great theatre performers of our time and makes this production a must-see, just for her performance, her vocals and hunched-over stance really gave the impression that Piaf was in the room. Sally Ann Triplett is equally impressive as best friend Toine and Laura Pitt-Pulford smashes it out of the park as Marlene Dietrich before completely transforming herself into the maid.
As a live-stream (which is what I am reviewing), the quality was somewhat undesirable and if I had paid £25 to watch this production online, I would not have been happy. Shot with a static camera at the back of the auditorium, the camera could be seen zooming in and out at times for closeups and the picture quality was quite dark due to the lighting. I’m sure this was not the case if you were at the show in person but on camera is was a little grainy. The sound at times during ensemble songs was uncomfortable to listen to, as though it hadn’t been mic’d for the camera.
★★★ (for the live stream, ★★★★★ for the performances)
Reviewed by West End Wilma
Upcoming accessible performances:
Audio Described performance – Thu 15 Jul, 7:30 pm
BSL interpreted performance – Fri 16 Jul, 7:30 pm
Captioned Performance – Sat 17 Jul, 2:30 pm