"We will always have Paris"
by Rebecca Wall for remotegoat on 20/10/12

From La Traviata to Moulin Rouge, Alexandre Dumas's archetypal tale of a courtesan who sacrifices all for love continues to absorb and enthral audiences, and now his Dame aux Camelias finds a new musical incarnation in Marguerite.

The show begins with a surprise birthday party for the eponymous heroine, a forty year old chanseuse at the apex of her career who owes more than a little to Edith Piaf in characterisation. Marguerite dominates the room, yet we soon realise that it is not her musical talents that have earned her such seeming adoration, but rather the Nazi general on whose arm she leans. Otto may adorn her with diamonds and designer evening dresses, but such luxuries are purchased at a heavy price- her freedom. Throughout the play affections are traded as commodities, from Marguerite's body and company to those of her apparent friends, drawn to her by the opportunities her position provides. In stark contrast to this is the intense and inopportune passion that soon develops between Marguerite and Armand, a young jazz musician with whom she spends three blissful days before they are driven apart by Otto's threats. Equally selfless is the loyalty displayed by her manager Georges, and the unrequited and unwavering love of Annette for Armand. Yet morality is shown to be an ambivalent concept, and faced with the brutality of the dominant regime the audience cannot entirely condemn those who chose to collaborate, while even Otto's possessive actions are explicable as the product of his obsessive love.

This, then, is a dark play, but one which nevertheless includes moments of humour. On a technical level voices were sometimes drowned out by the music, while the production relied heavily upon changes of costume to suggest a shift in scene and setting, to varying degrees of success. Hair, make-up, and costumes were however quiet a treat for any vintage fans, while a cheeky cancan scene presented a welcome moment of light relief. Overall, for any Francophile it offers an entertaining evening in convivial surroundings, transporting one to the exotic Paris of the British imagination whilst hinting at the menaces posed to an occupied nation.

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