Outpouring of raw emotion
'PIAF', at The Watermill, until Saturday, November 24
October 10 marked the 38th anniversary of the death of Edith Piaf, street singer of Paris or, in the view of one member of the audience I overheard during last Friday's interval, "a common slut".
Was that person on the same planet as the rest of us as we watched Jo Baird in a mammoth performance, bringing back to fife a woman who never gave less than everything and whose voice, demanding, exciting, packed with raw emotion, filled with pathos, wrenched at our hearts and minds?
True, this is not a show for the easily shocked nor those who have been heard to utter "Language, Timothy!", for no punches have been pulled. But
the result, against a background of a dusty Parisian bar so evocative that
I kept trying to smell the Gauloises, is a gutsy, full-blooded outpouring of emotion that leaves you drained and full of admiration. It does not set out to shock, as is so often is the case, but simply shows the woman that was Edith Piaf, the good, the bad, the magnificent.
It is, of course, one of many return visits to the Watermill for Ms Baird, whose performance as Sally Bowles in 'Cabaret'
I thought she could not better. In 'Piaf' she has done so. This is not mere mimicry of a star, but a
concentrated, intense achievement in producing the essence of the small woman in black, born on a policeman's cloak in a Paris doorway, and throwing it in our faces.
Just for once the actor musicians (good to see Karen Mann and Mike Afford there) became a wonderful, moving backcloth for the range of emotions pouring from the central character and it is a great tribute to them that the audience's attention remained riveted on Piaf throughout as they accompanied her in the songs which told the story - gay, seductive, and the poignant 'La Vie En Rose'. Praise too must go to Wayne Dowdeswell, for his lighting plot, one moment making a harsh mask of Jo Baird's face as she clawed her way up the microphone, the next softly illuminating the despairing, lonely figure slumped at a table.
The winning combination of director John Doyle and musical director Sarah Travis has done it again, for 'Piaf' is surely destined for further success.
'Who wants to see a dwarf looking like a war widow, when they can have Doris Day?" Piaf asks. Most of the world, Piaf, most of the world.
Don't miss this one - it's unforgettable.