Jermyn Street Theatre presents
The REACTION Season
HYMN TO LOVE
Homage to Piaf
Devised by Annie Castledine, Steve Trafford, and Elizabeth Mansfield
Starring Elizabeth Mansfield
Jermyn Street Theatre
Wed, 25th July - Sat, 18th August
Review by Clive Burton
Elizabeth Mansfield has been playing Piaf on stage for the best part of thirty years now in her role as one of the great international singing stars of the 40s and 50s.
She is an intense singer/actress who brings out all the pain and exorbitant joy of Piaf’s love affair with a demanding public and the (often) abusive men she gave, or sold, her love to.
By her own admission, Piaf was the lowest of the low, ‘scum’ whose extraordinary talent as an interpreter of song earned her the right to mix in the highest of social circles.
Hymn to Love recreates the woman and performer in all her contradictory magnificence.
As a girl, she spent part of her life semi-orphaned in a brothel where she vicariously experienced every variation of the human condition: she lost her only child to meningitis, prostituting herself to earn the ten Francs needed to bury her.
This show focuses on one particular period of her life as she is rehearsing in her Manhattan hotel room for her final Carnegie Hall Concert in 1957, re-igniting bitter sweet memories of events from eight years previously when she had pleaded with her Moroccan lover, boxing champion Marcel Cerdan, to join her in New York - despite his innate fear of flying.
When he is killed on the transatlantic crossing taking him to support her, the loss of a lover ‘who had a stomach like a cobbled street in the Pigalle’ compounds the all-pervading sense of guilt she feels for compelling him to join her.
This tragic incident provides the starting point of a musical journey illustrating her life and the men who played such an inseparable part of it; the deep-seated trauma triggers memories of all the other heartbreaks that come to the surface during the short (90- minutes, no interval) show.
On the night that she learned of Cerdan’s death, she determines that the concert must go on and her preparations are re-created in Hymn to Love, concluding with extracts of a final performance dedicated to the memory of her lover.
In Steve Trafford’s muscular translations of lyrics from an extensive Piaf catalogue that includes ‘La Foule’, ‘Comme Moi’ and ‘L’accordeoniste’, the eponymous ‘Hymne a l’Amour’, and ‘La Vie en Rose’, emerge with a particularly crushing directness, although French speakers may still yearn for the headstrong robustness of the original language.
The waywardness of love and its ability both to disappoint and intoxicate are captured with especial poignantly in both ‘Mon Legionnaire’ (where her lover dies without knowing the extent of her love for him) and ‘Télégramme' which mourns the passing of time and the death of an idealised vision of love.
Both songs, and one of the encores in particular, ‘C’est a Hambourg’ are worthy of Brel in their gut-wrenching truthfulness.
Ms Mansfield is mesmerising as the mature performer in whose skin she is so uncannily comfortable, re-incarnating every aspect of the ‘little sparrow’ from her waif-like frailty to the unrequited hunger for love and life behind eyes that reveal the contradictory forces of hope and despair driving her.
The programme describes the solo role as ‘The Singer’: although clearly based on Piaf’s life, it absolves Ms Mansfield from any necessity to resort to vocal imitation in a show where her searing performance says it all.
The Carnegie Hall finale excerpts material from the actual programme accompanied, as is the whole evening, by actor/pianist Patrick Bridgman. Damien Cruden directs this crushingly intelligent show with sensitivity and a knowing understanding.
Hymn to Love has been devised by Annie Castledine, with Steve Trafford and Elizabeth Mansfield.
Great Newport Street,
London, WC2H 7JB
Box Office: 020 7836 8463
by Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss
6-7 Great Newport Street
Thursday 30 August - Sunday 23 September
Box office:020 7836 8463
Tuesday - Friday at 8.00pm
Wednesday matinee 2.30pm
Saturday 4.00pm & 8.00pm
Sunday 4.00pm & 7.00pm
(additional Friday 4.00pm
matinee on 31 August)
Gala night :
Wednesday 5 September
Running time: 75 mins
Tickets: from £6.00
PRIOR TO LONDON
11 - 15 July
Cambridge Arts Theatre
17 - 21 July
Underbelly, George Square
1 - 27 August (not 13)
except for Mon 27 at 3.30pm