Review: “Piaf” at the Octagon Theatre Bolton until June 15th
Box office: 01204 520661. Website: www.octagonbolton.co.uk
Elizabeth Newman’s direction of Piaf, by Pam Gems, tells the story of the life of the famous French singer Edith Piaf.
Later known as La Mome Piaf , the little sparrow, Edith was born in 1915 to a street singer mother and an acrobat father in the slums of Belleville. After living for a while with her grandmother, who ran a brothel, Edith began to work as a street singer showing an incredible ability to memorise songs without being able to read music.
In 1935 she got her big break when she was employed by cabaret owner Louis Leplee. Her career blossomed over the next two decades until her early death in 1963. However, it was a career dogged by illness largely brought on by her drinking and drug abuse.
The programme notes are useful for those who don’t know about the details of Piaf’s troubled life, which included a considerable number of love affairs and two marriages. The best part of this production is Caroline Faber’s rendition of several of Piaf’s most memorable songs, Milord, La Vie en Rose and, of course, Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien.
Faber is well supported by Kate Coogan as her friend Toine and Lynda Rooke as Marlene Dietrich and secretary Madeleine. Iestyn Arwell, Colin Connor, Danny Cunningham, Christopher Hancock, Kieran Hill, Graham Lappin and Eamonn Riley play all the men in her life.
This was my problem with the drama. It is hard to follow which men they are, unless you are very familiar with her life story and inevitably the procession of lovers makes for a rather episodic structure. However, towards the end as we watch the singer deteriorate in health and approach death, the audience become more involved and moved.
The play contains a considerable amount of swearing, which is authentic to the period, and some graphic sexual content. Ciaran Bagnall’s set and lighting design is evocative and effective and Ben Occhipinti’s musical direction is at the heart of the drama.
PIPPA MUNRO HEBDEN
Caroline Faber as Edith Piaf at the Octagon, Bolton. Photo: Ian Tilton.