Edith Piaf is brought to life again thanks to a wonderful performance by Cameron Leigh in a production of Pam Gems play.
When you think of Edith Piaf there are two things that automatically spring to mind. One, a performer who used her singing to express her thoughts and feelings about her life and two a person in desperate search for love and security. This is what Gems’s play and director Jari Laakso’s production bring together wonderfully well.
The play begins as Piaf is discovered by Louis Leplee and how her career took off through all the highs and lows she experienced along the way. She led a deeply fascinating life that was filled with lots tragic incidents such as the loss of the love of her life in a plane crash to her addiction to morphine and alcohol, in which through Pam Gems play we get snapshots of.
Due to the amount of material that is included in the play, it does tend to feel rushed on stage as Laakso tries to give each important event in her life equal time but aware of the restraints of doing so. However, the way in which it is done can seem disorientating with the quick change of scenes – such as the very little amount of time spent during the war years.
Yet, what holds the show together is the fantastic performance of Cameron Leigh as Piaf. The way she portrays her first as a young uncontrollable and even vulgar (the use of language is particularly hard to swallow in the first act) to a woman who became disillusioned with fame, realising how vulnerable and alone she was – desperate for someone to stay and support her is particularly moving. Leigh’s vocals are stupendous reaching the heights that some singers can only dream of, particularly in ‘La Vie En Rose’ and of course the emotional finale ‘Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien’.
There is also ample support provided in the characters Marlene (Valerie Cutko) and Toine (Samantha Spurgin) – who no matter how Edith treats them are there to try and keep her grounded and support her in anyway that they can.
The production is swift, energetic and passionate that is credit to everyone involved. But it is just a shame that much of her story is lost because of the pace and the eagerness to fit as much in as possible in a specific amount of time, which in turn does tend to affect character development in other roles outside the main character herself.
However, Laakso has tried to put as much detail into his production as possible and overall the production flows well -despite not being able to connect the audience to the characters as perhaps he might have wanted. By doing a bit of editing it could have been a more focused production.
The production does however come up with a fascinating portrait of a woman who despite all of her struggles managed to live her life to the full and will certainly reawaken interest in her.
If you aren’t familiar with the details of Piaf’s life, then you might possibly struggle in some places as the show does move along at quite a brisk pace and in that sense the play can be seen as slightly disappointing. But despite this by the end the audience is completely engrossed by this extraordinary woman’s life.