Review: Piaf, Donmar Warehouse

I’m not one for standing ovations really, a show has to be beyond superb and really move me before I get on my feet, so imagine my surprise as I found myself standing and cheering before Elena Roger had even finished her final note of ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’! This is a truly amazing production of a show that I would bet the house on winning at least one Best Actress award for Ms Roger by the end of the year. Ladies and gentlemen, this is Piaf.

A reworking of Pam Gems’ 1978 play which sketches the tragic and tragically short life of French street singer Edith Piaf, it doesn’t actually feature too much by the way of biographical detail as it places the songs for which she is so rightly famous full square and centre. And this is why it is such a success.

Roger just embodies the songs, she lives them in front of us and so whilst this tiny Argentinean bears little physical resemblance to Piaf, it matters not a jot as the pure emotion invested in her performance keeps one rapt with attention. Even if you don’t speak French, you understand exactly what she is singing about at any given moment. The brevity of the show (90 minutes) means it is just an emotional rollercoaster which takes you from from her humble beginning to her early successes and then from tragedy to tragedy, doomed love affair to plane crashes, car crashes, emotional crashes. And Roger is onstage for almost every second of it, a truly stunning performance.

The rest of the ensemble cover the whirlwind of people around her, lovers and friends, Luke Evans and Leon Lopez bring a nice manliness to the stage ;-), Katherine Kingsley plays a statuesque Marlene Dietrich with a slinky brusqueness and Lorraine Bruce brings a nice comic touch to her sweary prostitute friend.

But there’s no doubting this is Elena Roger’s show. I regretted not giving her a standing ovation in Evita but I made no similar mistake this time: do anything to get a ticket!!

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