Theatre: Curtain Calls

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The Independent Culture
I'm sure Stars in Their Eyes has its devoted adherents, but I'm afraid I'm not one of them. Nor do I have much time for stage tribute shows which abandon drama and make do with cheap sets and a lookalike impersonation to draw in the fans of dead stars. So why do I recommend the Piaf-inspired Hymn to Love so highly? Let me count the ways.

Annie Castledine's exacting, exemplary production ignores every rule of the genre. Instead of a tired chronological trot through career troughs and triumphs, this is far more expressionistic. Better still, the person we see is not precisely Piaf. She's there, her magnetic presence caught in photographs and archive footage splashed on a giant screen across one side of the stage. But she is gazed upon not only by the audience, but also by The Singer, who is mesmerically played by Elizabeth Mansfield.

She pays Piaf the highest compliment by refusing to resort to impersonation. Instead she mysteriously conjures up the atmosphere of Piaf's voice with considerable musical intelligence and Steve Trafford's tremendous English translations. Add Nick Beadle's superbly atmospheric lighting and terrific musical direction and the eerie, thrilling result comes far closer than a standard bio-drama could ever get.

`Hymn to Love', The Drill Hall, London WC1 (0171-637 8270)

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