Theatre review: Piaf / Vaudeville, London

Vaudeville, London

Jamie Lloyd's production is almost so brilliant that it is quite frustrating to watch. You keep wishing he had dropped any pretence of keeping faith with Pam Gems' pallid bio-play, and just done his own thing. Piaf is at its most intriguing when it is like a painting with songs - a painting from the impressionist school, but touched by that inner light you get in 17th-century religious canvases. It is least interesting as a tale of guttersnipe-turned-tragic-diva battling love, loss, drugs, drink and all those other cliches that ensure that, in best showbiz style, the evening will end with Je Ne Regrette Rien and the audience will rise to their feet in affirmation.

The main thing that sets this apart is Elena Roger as Piaf. She looks like Piaf, she sounds like Piaf, but she is never impersonating, always performing. She is like a gaudy moth: too bright, too intense, too impossibly fragile. By the end, Roger's Piaf is no plucky little survivor: she is a tottering wreck, her mouth (destroyed in a car crash) a clownish gash out of which emerges a sound of pure pain. It is a mercurial performance, but one that slots unshowily into Lloyd's intriguing, fluid production. Just as he uses light and shadow, Lloyd plays with stasis and movement so that the entire evening swirls and eddies. If only the script matched up, this would be a glorious night.


Lyn Gardner

The GuardianTramp

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