The sky outside the Almeida is a luminous backdrop of rococo red and gold, as if something magnificent and ruined smoulders on the horizon, but it can't pacify an audience kept waiting a good half-hour tonight. "Two minutes before she was due on, I saw her go into the bar," someone murmurs, as the punters begin a half-hearted slow hand clap. When Faithfull does appear, it's with a lush, bouncing stagger, only partly due, perhaps, to her towering heels. Girded in principal boy brocades showing a terrifying amount of milky cleavage, she sports the baby-blond hair of her youth (she is 50) and nails tipped with blue varnish, as if she'd caught her fingers in a door. These aren't the only bruises on display. Faithfull flies her past like a skull and crossbones, and those who've not read her full and frank autobiography can still perceive some of it in her mouth, now the fragile smile of an aristocratic ex-convent girl, now the rictus of Mick Jagger's notoriously druggy inamorata, who subsequently survived years of debauchery and sleeping rough. The show she's touring is a tough, anguished streak through Kurt Weill and Bertholt Brecht and, though others have tried to boost their credentials this way, the work fits Faithfull like a glove. Its themes of disillusion and bloody militarism echo both her bitter past and her lineage; father a major in the British Intelligence, mother an Austro-Hungarian Jew active in the Resistance (Bolsheviks and Nazis alike denounced the art of pre-war Weimar as decadent because it was Jewish). Faithfull interprets these squalid, witty laments with a melodrama that shows she's half in love with Berlin, half in love with herself. Her booze-cracked voice blends nuances of Eartha Kitt and Billie Whitelaw with the sensibility of Beckett, and on "Alabama Song" or "Show me the way to the next whisky bar", with Jeffrey Bernard. On excerpts from The Threepenny Opera, she's a buccaneering Pirate Jenny indicting her pimp MacHeath and flying the flag of rebellious tarts everywhere. But the evening's not all Weill. Lighting a cigarette from a silver case, she drags deeply, retches a smoker's cough, then delivers a towering "Boulevard of Broken Dreams", chest heaving like the prow of the Titanic. Faithfull has found her own world and time. On "Falling In Love Again", she is the Blue Angel par excellence, for "Mack the Knife" she revels in brutality. There are times her voice is a buzz-saw drowning Paul Trueblood's syncopated piano, but not many, and no one better annotates triumph over heartbreak and decay. "Jesus Christ!" she hisses, trying to uncork a bottle of Volvic. On her splayed hand, that bluebird of happiness tattoo is fading, but still clear.
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