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PIAF: NO REGRETS (article first published : 2001-08-3)

“I can be happy, but not for long; it doesn’t go with my looks.” So said Edith Piaf, the passionate French singer born Edith Giovanna Gassion in 1915 on the streets of Paris “on a gendarme’s cape under a lamp-post”. The singer who was to take the world by storm with her unique style of presentation, not to mention her numerous lovers and excessive lifestyle.

Pieter Scholtz has written and directed Piaf: No Regrets currently running at Kwasuka Theatre. He has based it on a biography by Piaf’s half sister Simone Berteaut, published by Harper & Row under the title Piaf.

From the age of eight until her early teens, Piaf was dragged by her profligate father to perform in dance halls, bars and dingy venues. Simone, who had talents as a dancer, was taken by her mother to see Edith perform. A strong bond was forged between them which, despite Edith’s many lovers, continued until Edith’s death. Barely 15, Piaf ‘”contracted” her younger sister as a co-performer and they decided to leave home and get work wherever they could – appearing on the streets and eventually in a cabaret venue. Piaf: No Regrets is their story.

In the interests of transparency, let me declare my vested interests in this production before you read further. I am a trustee of Kwasuka Theatre and married to Peter Gardner who is a member of the cast.

But bias aside, Piaf: No Regrets is an impressive production. Pieter Scholtz has dealt with the many facets of Edith Piaf with dignity and respect. This is a full-on dramatic piece which includes music, rather than a music revue focusing solely on Piaf’s songs. We discover the singer was blind for a period in her childhood; she was brought up in a brothel; one of her lovers was a boxer, and among her friends were legendary names such as Maurice Chevalier, Charles Aznavour, Yves Montand, Marlene Dietrich and Jean Cocteau.

Doing due justice and more to Piaf’s memory, Janene van Pletsen is simply superb. She gives a sustained, sincere and vigorous performance of the volatile singer who lived life to the full but eventually succumbed to a self-destructive course of drugs and alcohol. We had a taste of Janene’s renditions of Piaf’s songs in the Playhouse Cellar production Brel, Piaf and Aznavour. This time round, her voice has acquired an added quality and maturity.

The well-known songs - La Vie en Rose; Padam, Padam; Les Trois Cloches; Hymne à l'Amour, and Piaf’s hymn to survival Non, Je ne Regrette Rien - are all there, most of them sung to the full in the final part of the play.

Ably supporting her at the piano which is cleverly placed on stage in a sunken area, is musical director Evan Roberts whose accompaniment is sympathetic and generous. In the vitality of the action, his occasional underplayed narrations provide a good contemporary balance.

Stacey Taylor’s is a spirited and glowing performance as the loyal Simone Berteaut, offering a nice foil for the complex Piaf. Peter Gardner is a strong narrator steering the action calmly from scene to scene. He is suitably short-tempered as the jealous Raymond Asso who tries to teach Piaf proper table manners and how to conduct herself with propriety in public.

The other performers take on a number of roles. Always a robust stage presence, Pieter Scholtz is at his best as the suave Papa Leplee who gave Piaf her first big break. John van de Ruit has the almost impossible task of playing not one but three of Piaf’s lovers. His portrayal of Theo Sarapo has an appealing guileless honesty. This year’s Durban FNB Vita actress of the year, Catherine Farren plays no less than nine characters and presents her usual calm and focused performance, even in the boxing ring scene when she does nothing but chew gum!

Pieter Scholtz’s set, painted and constructed by Alan Keatinge, is impressive and offers a good Gallic atmosphere.

On the down side, the show could be judiciously edited, Janene would benefit from a more unflattering wig in the final scenes and the French accents could be less pronounced.

Other than that, the show’s not to be missed.

Piaf: No Regrets which runs at Kwasuka Theatre until August 18. Shows nightly at 19h30, Sundays at 18h00. Tickets R35, R25 for Saturday matinees at 14h30 (R5 off for pensioners). Book at Computicket or on (011) 340-8000 or 083 915-8000 for credit card bookings or www.computicket.co.za




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