Yorkshire Times
A Voice of the North
Phil Hopkins
Arts & Travel Editor
8:00 AM 24th July 2021

Piaf Becomes Cockney Barrow Girl!

Photo: Marc Brenner
Photo: Marc Brenner
Edith Piaf – The Little Sparrow – was more ‘mi old cock sparra’ when she came on stage effing and blinding with all the eloquence of Eliza Doolittle!

Leeds Playhouse and Nottingham Playhouse’s co-production of Pam Gems’ musical play, Piaf, tells the story of France’s world-renowned chanteuse, famed for wringing tears from the hardest of hearts including those who couldn’t even speak a word of French.

So it was a momentary shock when Olivier Award-nominated actress, Jenna Russell, opened her mouth and out came a flow of expletives that would have made a Covent Garden fruit and veg barker blush!
Photo: Marc Brenner
Photo: Marc Brenner
However, shock over, I thoroughly enjoyed this production and fully appreciated why director, Adam Penford, probably decided on the approach he took.

Piaf was from the gutter. She rubbed shoulders with prostitutes, thieves and low-lives and, somehow, Penford needed this to be unequivocally clear to a British audience, hence why he undoubtedly opted for the foul-mouthed Anglo Parisienne approach he took.

Marlene Dietrich (Laura Pitt-Pulford)
Photo: Marc Brenner
Photo: Marc Brenner
was decidedly German of accent and the songs fluctuated between French and English but, once you had settled into the play (yes, we know that Piaf never really sang in English) it became less of an issue as you started to follow the story rather than contemplate the accents.

There were some sterling performances and the boxer ballet in which Piaf’s lover, Marcel, spars with an opponent was an inspired piece of stage craft.

Russell definitely had shades of Marion Cotillard from the movie, La Vie en Rose and would have worked for hours perfecting her tones.

Not only is there the pressure of anchoring such a show, but there is the additional weight of expectation that comes with playing an iconic role: Brian Connolly had the same challenge when he tackled the nasal tones of Jolson in the musical of the same name. Russell was a worthy show anchor.

I loved Sally Ann Triplett as Piaf’s gobby sidekick Toine – equally tarty and as rough as her mate – and tribute to stage designer Frankie Bradshaw for this neat, versatile and atmospheric set,

Well worth a visit for Piaf and non-Piaf fans alike, however, if you have sensitive ears, steel yourself for the torrent of choice language that flows within seconds of Russell walking on stage. Still, a great show for a self-confessed Piaf fan like me….even if it was heavily Anglicised.

Leeds Playhouse
Until 7th August