Preview: Piaf, Donmar Warehouse, London
A view of the Sparrow that's less rose-tinted
The French singer Edith Piaf, whose greatest hits include "La Vie en Rose" and "Non, je ne regrette rien", has long been the subject of biographies, films and plays. Most recently, the actress Marion Cotillard played Piaf in the film La Vie en Rose, and won an Oscar.
Now, Pam Gems has reworked her 1978 play Piaf, focusing this time more on the biographic details of the waiflike singer's life. The new production will star Elena Rogers, who starred in Evita in the West End last year, and reunite her with the Donmar's associate director Jamie Lloyd, who was associate director on Evita, and now directs Piaf.
"Essentially, it is the same play. It has the same spirit as the original but it feels more truthful and fresh," says Lloyd. "I asked Pam what she wanted to do, 30 years later. We had more specifics about Piaf's life since the original play was published. We know that Piaf saved prisoners of war by forging their papers. We know more about the men surrounding her, including Charles Aznavour and Yves Montand. Her relationships can now be based on reality rather than invented.
"We also now understand the significance of the boxer Marcel Cerdan, who was the love of her life, so he features prominently in the new play. When he died in a plane crash, she went on the road of self-destruction."
Lloyd, whose other credits include the recent West End production of Pinter's The Lover and The Collection, and The Caretaker at Sheffield Crucible, served his apprenticeship on big musicals such as the Donmar's Guys and Dolls and Trevor Nunn's Anything Goes. Of the star of his latest show, he says: "Elena can really sing these Piaf songs, and tap into the grit and sex of them. It's a raw, passionate performance.
"She can play the 17-year-old Piaf on the streets, the woman in control of her career and her men, through to the horrors of the morphine and alcohol addiction of this tragic star."
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