Mark Aspen – Expressing the art of the theatre critic
Piaf Remembered at the OSO Arts Centre, Barnes until 18th January.
A welcome return to the OSO Arts Centre in Barnes on a crisp January evening, this time in full reviewer mode eagerly anticipating the delights of what I expected to be a straightforward tribute show. How gratifyingly erroneous that assumption turned out to be.
The auditorium was configured in cabaret style; that is to say, with tables and chairs rather than raked seating. Personally, I like this arrangement, particularly for music based shows, but it does have its drawbacks. If the stage is not elevated, as was the case here, then there can be sight-line issues. Having said that, we sat toward the rear of the hall and were not troubled in that respect.
Piaf Remembered was premiered at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2017. The show is, effectively, two stories told in parallel by the narrator, Robert Dumont, played by Gary Merry. Firstly, there is the tale of Dumont, aged eight, accompanying his father on a trip to Paris in 1962, during which he is taken to see Piaf in what turned out to be her final concert. This leads us to the second story, which is that of Edith Piaf and his fascination with her. The stories are interwoven with the songs of Piaf, presumably from that final performance, delivered beautifully by Oriana Curls, who is supported most ably by Chris Jerome on piano and Katy Jungmann on clarinet, saxophone and accordion.
I found the storytelling hugely engaging, recreating the excitement, nervousness and fascination of an eight-year old attempting to understand the world of grown-ups and the frankly gob-smacking impact of seeing someone of the artistic stature of Piaf in full flow. One of the points made is that you don’t need to be fluent in a language to understand and be affected by the songs written in it. I agree with this, having first encountered the phenomenon in a song called Guantanamera, by the Sandpipers sometime in the ‘60s. I would have been around the same age as Dumont was on his visit to Paris and my Spanish would have been equivalent to his French. My French remains at best rudimentary, to my shame, but Oriana Curls’ performance overcomes that by completely inhabiting the spirit of the song and laying it out for you.
I enjoyed this show enormously and would have no hesitation in recommending it, particularly to Piaf fans. Some of the finer details of Piaf’s life are glossed over or missing, but that, I think, should be viewed in the context of a young lad’s story of a foray into foreign climes.
Technically, the sound was well balanced for the venue, with the vocals nicely forward in the mix without being harsh or over dominant. Lighting-wise, I would have preferred to see stronger contrast between, particularly, Oriana and Robert, such that when Oriana sings, Robert is in blackout and vice versa. I appreciate that, for a touring production, there isn’t always time to rig and patch for the niceties but, if it is at all possible…
I would also have liked to have seen a programme, or at the very least a song list, so that I could go and chase down those numbers that I was less familiar with and add them to sundry playlists. In any event, most of the well-known numbers are present, including:
• Sous les ciels de Paris
• Padam, padam
• L’hymne à l’amour
• Les feuilles mortes (some very tasteful soloing here, on both piano and sax)
• Milord (guaranteed to get the audience’s feet a’stompin’ and hands a’clappin’) • La vie en rose
• Je ne regrette rien
Minor niggles aside, go and see it. As I said earlier, an even more enjoyable evening than I had anticipated. Je ne regrette rien!!
Vince Francis January 2019