Review: Piaf (Donmar Warehouse)

Yesterday marked the final night of the Donmar’s latest sell-out success, Piaf. Well, it was the last night until it reappears in 3 weeks time at the Vaudeville Theatre for another ‘limited’ 14 week run. I booked my tickets almost as soon as the booking period opened, so it’s been a long wait to actually see the show – but was it worth it?

Yes and no.

Elena Roger’s performance was superb overall, and spellbinding whenever she was singing. Her physical acting and mannerisms were exquisite, and I’m still confused about her ability to replicate one of the most distinctive voices I have ever heard. It was impressive enough when Marion Cottilard played Piaf on screen to Oscar-winning effect in last year’s La Vie en Rose, but it’s even more impressive for Roger to do it live every night in front an audience which is as close to the stage as the Donmar’s is. In fact, her performance would have been perfect had she made at least some attempt to sound French when speaking – her accent was the only thing that grated about her performance.

Looking back though, I wish I had been able to watch a concert performance of Elena Roger as Edith Piaf – I spent almost every moment of the show willing her start singing again. And that’s my problem with this show. Jamie Lloyd’s direction could certainly not be accused of lacking in speed, or slickness, but in places it actually ended up feeling too rushed. There wasn’t any chance for the story to breathe, and I was relieved that I had seen the film of La Vie en Rose earlier this year, and therefore actually knew some more of the background story which was missing from this show. Apparently Pam Gems’ original play is actually nearly 2.5 hours long, and it was cut in collaboration with Lloyd for this production. I wish they hadn’t cut it quite so much.

Reading back, this post all sounds quite negative, perhaps even more than I intended. The cast all do a good job, and I loved the set design. It’s also incredibly tight musically – Nigel Lilley as MD has done an excellent job. But ultimately, despite all of those redeeming features, I can’t help feeling that this show is a missed opportunity. With a leading lady as talented as Elena Roger, it should have been brilliant, but unfortunately it never quite hit the heights that I had expected.

I’m not the first person to express mixed emotions about the show thought – check out Natasha Tripney’s post on the Guardian theatre blog more than a month ago

If you still want to see the show (and on balance, it’s still worth it just to see Roger, you can book tickets for the transfer here).

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