Olivier-nominated Elizabeth Mansfield fronts a one-woman-and-an-excellent-pianist show where Edith Piaf is preparing for a New York concert after the death of her lover, boxer Marcel Cerdan. The songs intertwine with Edith’s monologues on Marcel, her past and her own musings on life. Mansfield delivers a moving and subtle performance, eschewing impersonation to deliver singing that, whilst mellower and somewhat more technical than Piaf’s, still carried enough of her style to make it cohesive. If anything, this Piaf is more lucid and better-spoken than the mercurial, morphine-addicted singer who was battered by life in ways which are probably a record in the history of entertainment.
If anything, this Piaf is more lucid and better-spoken than the mercurial, morphine-addicted singer who was battered by life in ways which are probably a record in the history of entertainment.
Mansfield manages to strike a balance between wit, hope and grief, in ways which elevate the text’s occasional lacklustre moments. Piaf’s witty side is better written, the script’s take on grief occasionally falling flat. She is more believable when saying things such as ‘without him I’d still have my arse hanging out of my knickers’ than when speaking about Marcel. Steve Trafford’s script does however get it right in its translations of the songs (literal enough to make their connection to Piaf and the story clear) and in how to place each song in relation to the rest of the show. In spite of that, the show’s best moment is Mansfield’s performance of Je Ne Regrette Rien in the original French.
The production could have used a ‘less is more’ approach and eschewed unnecessary projections and particularly unnecessary sounds, such as the wave background during a Piaf monologue. The audience at Theatre Royal is lucky in its proximity to the stage, allowing us to capture nuances in the performance that would not be possible in a larger theatre. The play’s best moments are the simplest, and the director’s choice of only using the live piano player to accompany Mansfield’s Piaf was a wise one.
The competent production makes for an enjoyable hour-and-25-minutes, and will surely have an audience in those, like this reviewer, who appreciate Piaf’s work. Whilst not groundbreaking, viewers will surely ‘ne regrettent rien’.
‘Hymn To Love’ continues at the York Theatre Royal until Saturday 21st April. For more information, please visit York Theatre Royal’s website.