Ginger Hibiscus | Review by Ginger Hibiscus | Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, at the Charing Cross Theatre
Review by Ginger Hibiscus | Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, at the Charing Cross Theatre
Review by Ginger Hibiscus | Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, at the Charing Cross Theatre
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22 Oct REVIEW: Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

“It is amusing to note that Jacques Brel is something, much like Champagne or croissants, that the French are generally very reluctant to admit is not, well, French. Some might say that this is due to the fact that Brel remains to this day one of the few Francophone singers to have truly had worldwide success and acclaim. But perhaps it is simply because he embodied the French spirit so perfectly; embodied a time and a place which to this day fascinates and enchants.” – Victorine Pontillon

For a production named after a real, but decidedly deceased, person, “Jacques Brel is alive and well and living in Paris” seems at first glance to be a curious title to choose. But it’s a lovely way to reference the works of Brel, and to acknowledge the mark he’s left – still faintly visible – on songwriters not just in les pays Francophones but across the globe.

Who Jacques Brel is, and a certain familiarity with his music, are something of an assumed knowledge for the production. Without it you’re likely to spend the majority of the show puzzled as to how the seemingly disparate cabaret songs fit together, what the plot is, and whether or not all the different characters being played by the same actors/actresses have some kind of avant-garde significance, a complex and sophisticated meaning veiled from the unworthy eye.

To this unworthy eye, “cabaret” is probably the most accurate way to describe Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris. With no story, it certainly isn’t a musical. And it’s far too theatrical to be a concert. So cabaret – or rather – theatrical cabaret wins the title, particularly given the setting which places us firmly in a Parisian café-bar. The epitome of shabby chic, there are mismatched, moth-eaten lampshades galore, but more excitingly, there’s also a live band on the stage. The band (Dean Austin, James Cleeve, Felix Stickland, Doug Grannell and Richard Burden) are superb, and it’s a wonderful treat to hear live, unamplified music, being created right just on stage, but never more so than when it accompanies the vocal dream that is Eve Polycarpou.

Polycarpou, who recently played Abuela Claudia in the Southwark Playhouse’s critically acclaimed production of In The Heights, shows off her voice throughout, but particularly striking is her rendition of Ne Me Quitte Pas, which is simple yet bleeds with an emotional intensity. That ability to affect an audience over and over again is exemplified in the full company’s “The Desperate Ones,” incredibly poignant to watch, and a perfect example of how powerful silence and stillness can be.

Gina Beck, Daniel Boys
and David Burt all put in impressive performances, delivering Brel’s trademark clever, thoughtful songs with style, class and good humour. The problem for me, is that with Brel having passed in 1973, I didn’t know the songs, didn’t recognise the commonality between them, and no matter how good the direction, the common strand feels insufficient for it to hang together as a show. That said, with excellent execution and lovely music, taken in full knowledge of what the show is, it’s an enjoyable, interesting and different evening out.

Star Rating

Ginger Hibiscus don’t like using stars as a headline; we think they’re too reductionist, and that decision-making based on stars misses the point of a review. Just as you wouldn’t judge a personality using a five-point scale, theatre is multi-dimensional. So have a read, and then look at the stars afterwards.
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