Piaf Review - Leeds Playhouse

For the past 40 years or so the musical play Piaf has been wowing audiences the world over.

Friday, 6th August 2021, 10:14 am
Updated Friday, 6th August 2021, 10:16 am
Jenna Russell as Piaf
Jenna Russell as Piaf

The story of the French urchin Edith Gassion who was discovered singing in the street to earn her next meal is well known.

Reinvented as Edith Piaf and going on to become one of the world’s biggest-selling artists she found it difficult to leave her past behind and lived a life of lavish spending, hedonism and addiction to unsuitable men, alcohol and pain killers before dying aged 47.

Jenna Russell is superb as Piaf - she portrays Edith throughout the many stages of her life sympathetically and with consummate skill.

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Her delivery of the sons is powerful and compelling and I liked the fact that some of the lyrics were in English.

The cockney twang of Russell’s dialogue grated at first but I understand the reasoning behind it: a way of reinforcing Edith’s life as a poor working-class girl.

The narrative is secondary to the songs and skirts over important aspects of her life and the period she was living in.

It helps if you are aware of her story beforehand to make sense of some of the scenes.

For example, her involvement in helping thousands of French Jews escape the Nazis should have been given more prominence and explained more fully.

The other eight members of the cast take on numerous roles.

Laura Pitt-Pulford is particularly impressive as Marlene Dietrich and Madeliene, Edith’s long-suffering secretary but the parts taken by the men are not as memorable.

All except Matthew Woodyatt who portrays Raymond and Charles Aznavour: he also plays a mean accordion

Toine, played by Sally-Ann Triplett is Edith’sconfidente and best friend on the streets and is warm-hearted and raucous. The pair have a fractious relationship in later years but it is clear the friendship is still there.