Gate audience experience a little street cold at ‘Piaf’

The street entertainment proved as captivating as the show itself!

by Rose Barrett
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The tale of Édith Piaf, the little French Sparrow began on the streets of Belleville, Paris. Abandoned by her mother, a young Édith learnt the realities of growing up in a cold, harsh world.

Last night’s audience attending the compelling show ‘Piaf’ by Pam Gems at the Gate Theatre experienced a little of that street cold when they found themselves ushered out and up to the Garden of Remembrance following the intermission.

“Mes dames et messieurs” began the maitre d’ as we returned to our seats after the intermission. “As you can hear, a fire alarm has gone off… there is not a fire in the building but we must ask you all to exit the building calmly, turn left as you exit the front doors and walk to the Garden of Remembrance.”

Camille O’Sullivan as the boisterous but compelling Édith Piaf

And that we did, as the issue was addressed! Were we frozen, annoyed, bewildered? All three but that soon dissipated as the cast of Piaf, including the lead Camille O’Sullivan, threw themselves into full performance mode and delivered heartening versions of the French Sparrow’s most famous songs: ‘La vie en Rose’, ‘Padam, padam, padam.” Ably assisted and encouraged by the show’s accordion player.

What a peculiar spectacle we were, all warmly wrapped in winter woollies as the capital was submerged at minus three degrees!

But the cast soon had us clapped and stamping our feet to the lyrics of Piaf’s best known hits until we again heard: “Mes dames et messieurs, you can now return to your seats in the theatre……”

Did it impact upon our enjoyment of the show? Not a bit, if anything it added a little bawdy excitement and something methinks the infamous French diva would have enjoyed!

O’Sullivan is compelling in the lead role, her deep raspy voice so strong and captivating with Zara Devlin as a young Piaf equally as commanding and impressive on stage.

West End star Aoife Mulholland (ChicagoThe Sound of MusicLegally Blonde) made her Gate debut as Marlene Dietrich and she was another who captivated her audience and commanded the stage.

Directed by Des Kennedy (Good Vibrations), the cast took on multiple roles and slipped in and out of the production, telling the tale of the French chanteuse from her impoverished start to her rise to fame. Her life story is not savoury in every aspect and the show without any nudity or gross behaviour adeptly covered her promiscuous and excessive lifestyle.

Her life was as lewd as her voice was loud but Pam Gem’s production captured her big heart, her inability to choose love wisely against her ability to retain the fortune she earned.

I couldn’t help but think of Amy Winehouse, Judy Garland and Whitney Houston, all of whom had magnificent voices, magnificent careers and all of whom died tragically young, with little joy from their respective success.

Cast included Kwaku FortuneEmmanuel Okoye and Ash Rizi, Phelim Drew, Kate Gilmore, Darragh Shannon and Rory Nolan.

Piaf at the Gate Theatre, I loved every second even the additional performances on the street as the fire alarm took on a life of it’s own and decided to compete with the music of the French Sparrow.

And all the favorites were there: ‘La Vie en Rose’, ‘Padam, padam…’ ‘La Foule’, ‘Milord’ – in fact, 24 of the French icon’s songs were performed last night. Until the final curtain came down on Piaf’s boisterous, full-on life with ‘Je ne regrette rien’, I was wishing it could start all over again.

It may not be everyone’s cup of tea – Piaf was no Barbie Doll and certainly no angel; she had (sadly) a voice to die for and that’s what Camille O’Sullivan and fellow cast carried right through to the final curtain. I think they should make the intermission diversion a regular show piece.

Piaf at the Gate Theatre, show currently SOLD OUT

Feature photo shows last night’s audience watching the street performance during an unscheduled break in ‘Piaf’

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