Pros: Spellbinding songs performed in the spirit of their era by an engaging cast.
Cons: Hard to find any in this production, though the songs were maybe slightly challenging for the younger members of the cast.
This revue performance of Jacques Brel’s songs was first performed off Broadway in 1968. It ran for four years and has had a number of successful revivals. This is most likely due to the strength of the songs that are both literate and theatrical in nature. There is no dialogue between the songs and no tangible narrative that links them together. However, some individual songs do tell interesting, powerful and occasionally disturbing stories.
There is a cast of two male and two female singers, all of whom have impressive West End credentials. The four-piece band is positioned on the set, which helps to create the atmosphere of a Paris bar in the 1950s, or 60s. The set itself is minimal, but makes effective use of a couple of tables, hat stands and a standard lamp. Projected black and white images of Jacques Brel singing and of Brighton’s burnt out West Pier at the back of the stage are also used effectively. If you immerse yourself fully in the music and lyrics it is easy to forget that you’re in a small theatre underneath Charing Cross station.
You don’t need to be a fan of Jacques Brel to enjoy this show, but it probably helps if you know some of the songs. Many were covered by Scott Walker in the 1960s and some of those versions are more widely known to British audiences than the originals. Most people will know ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’, which is the only song in this show that hasn’t been translated into English. It is sung here with incredible passion and sincerity by Eve Polycarpou sitting on the edge of the stage. Another high point was David Burt’s rendition of ‘Jacky’, one of Brel’s more uplifting tunes.
The younger members of the cast, Gina Beck and Daniel Boys, both perform the songs well. However, Marc Almond, who has performed many Jacques Brel covers, has suggested that a singer has to have lived a little before he or she can really get to grips with Brel’s music. This is probably true and I felt Eve Polycarpou and David Burt’s performances were more convincing and heartfelt than their younger colleagues’. That’s not to say that younger people can’t identify with these songs of sex, death and doomed romance, but it is more difficult for younger singers to do them justice in my opinion.
Author: Eric Blau and Mort Shuman
Director: Andrew Keates
Musical Director: Dean Austin
Producer: Chris de Wilde
Box Office: 08444 930650
Booking Link: http://www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk
Booking Until: 22 November 2014