"Squalor and glamour in Paris"
by Aline Waites on 14/11/11

PIAF by Pam Gems ****
At the Rose and Crown Theatre, Walthamstow.
From the little sparrow singing in the street to a world famous chanteuse, Piaf was a tragic figure - Alcoholic, nymphomaniac and morphine addict. Her deprived childhood had not prepared her for life and she was forever trying to escape from it with a reckless life style that caused her physical injuries from which she recovered miraculously but with a helpless morphine addiction. The play by Pam Gems is a series of sketches of her life, illustrated with her songs which are sung, mostly in French, by the quite remarkable voice of Lisa Baird - a tiny sparrow like creature who can belt out agony and tear a song to shreds in true Piaf manner.

Gems' play is not a charitable portrait of the diva - for she comes across as a megalomaniac, impossible to like and it is a wonder that people kept coming back to see her time and time again. However she was instrumental in kick starting the careers of her lovers such as Yves Montand and Charles Aznavour. Aznavour was her most faithful friend and lover and took care of her until her inevitable early demise.
In this production Aznavour gets to sing a whole number and this is performed by Bo Frazier, a young man with great charm and personality. This comes as a welcome relief from the angst in all the Piaf songs that have been chosen by the author. Another happy moment is the duet with Marlene Dietrich (Amy Burke) when they sing along together Piaf's most delightful ballad 'La Vie En Rose.'

Gemma Goggins gives a well measured performance as her faithful friend and ex call girl Toine, and Joe Shefer brings warmth and reality to the part of Louis Leplee, the man who gave her the name Piaf when he discovered her singing in the street and made her into a star. Piaf always considered that Marcel Cerdan (Aqil Zahid)was the love of her life and was devastated when he died in an aeroplane accident. All the men play several parts and they are well cast.
Musical Director Aaron Clingham works without ceasing at the piano, underscoring as well as playing for the songs and he is ably assisted by the invisible cellist Maria Rodriguez Reina.

The direction is by Dawn Kalani Cowle and the theatrical design by Mike Lees.

This is by no means a jolly evening but an informative one!

ALINE WAITES

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