Brilliant Brel

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris at the Charing Cross Theatre

You probably know more Jacques Brel songs than you think.  Ne Me Quitte Pas, anyone?  How about No Love You’re Not Alone (incorporated in David Bowie’s Rock ‘n’ Roll Suicide)?  Terry Jacks’ Seasons in the Sun was Le Moribond with a new lyric, while Scott Walker had a hit record with Jacky in the late 1960s.

Singer songwriter Brel was born in Belgium in 1929, moving to Paris in 1953 to pursue his career in music.  Although he died young (aged 49) he left a remarkable legacy of chansons behind him, many of which focus on the darker side of life.  “Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris,” a musical revue of his work, was first produced in New York in 1968.  The show reflects his strong anti-war stance, and features songs in English, French and Flemish.

The Charing Cross Theatre production has a heavy cabaret feel to it, which is all to the good.  The first half was enjoyable: Eve Polycarpou opened the show with Le Diable (Ca Va), followed by Daniel Boys and Gina Beck, who made a favourable first impression with If We Only Have Love. Musical Director and Pianist Dean Austin sang a brief solo with Le Moribond, and I particularly liked the closing number Amsterdam, powerfully sung by David Burt, which gave a flavour of what was to come after the interval.  I would have liked to hear some harmonies on The Desperate Ones, which was sung in unison by the full company, but by the time I got to the interval I was already impressed and looking forward to what was to follow.

Despite some feedback problems on the sound front, especially during “Middle Class” (which was a shame, as it was otherwise a very amusing number from David and Daniel), the second half blew me away.  Eve’s Ne Me Quitte Pas was profoundly moving, and Gina’s “My Death” totally rocked.  I’ve been lucky enough to see the wonderfully talented Camille O’Sullivan perform both of these, plus Amsterdam, live on more than one occasion, and Eve, Gina and David’s renditions in no way suffered by comparison.  Daniel Boys also gave a consistently strong performance throughout, with his Next being a particular standout.  Overall, the second half seemed to build to a final crescendo, with the full cast joining in for a reprise of If We Only Have Love at the end.

The four singers were ably supported on stage by band members James Cleeve, Felix Stickland, Doug Grannell and Richard Burden, as well as by Dean Austin as previously mentioned.  This excellent show was directed by Andrew Keates, and is well worth a viewing.

Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living in Paris runs until 22 November 2014 at the Charing Cross Theatre, Monday – Saturday 7.45 pm, Saturday matinees 3pm.  Tickets are available from www.charingcrosstheatre.co.uk.

Belfast Girl: A Love Story

As it’s now less than two weeks till opening night, I wanted to let everyone know about Belfast Girl: A Love Story, from London Irish Theatre.

Set in the aftermath of the Good Friday Agreement, Belfast Girl: A Love Story considers the human dimension of the Northern Ireland question, and uncovers the personal costs of political struggle.  Annie is the Belfast Girl of the title: a working class protestant who grew up during the troubles.  Her marriage to Orangeman Billy is on the rocks, and an unexpected visit from English Catholic Dave, her childhood sweetheart who she hasn’t seen since her teens, brings matters to a head in an explosive manner.  The play is written and directed by John Dunne, and features Mary Tynan (me) as Annie and Ian Macnaughton as Dave.

The story of Dave and Annie has been through several incarnations over the years.  The first, titled Belfast, premiered in the 1990s and featured the couple as teenagers, with Tanya Franks as Annie.  I become involved during the second incarnation, Belfast Boy, which was written to be the second play in a double bill with Geraldine Aron’s A Galway Girl, touring in 2009/10.  This was a two hander, with the older Annie and Dave meeting again after many years.  Belfast Girl followed in the summer of 2010, and I played Annie for the second time in a completely new work which also featured Annie’s brother and husband.  This play has recently had a Belfast run, in which the story was expanded to include two further characters.

Belfast Girl: A Love Story returns to the two-handed format, but with a twist.  There may be only two actors, but there are more than two characters!  I’m really looking forward to playing Annie again, and would like to invite readers of Notes From Xanadu to join the audience.  Previous versions Belfast and A Belfast Boy have both received critical acclaim from the press, and Belfast was a Time Out Critic’s Choice.

“John Dunne’s sensitive squint at the Ulster legacy adapts well to the stage.  What’s impressive about the rapid stucco of tense, bite-sized scenes is that they’re eloquently counterpointed by a driving commitment to character development.”  Time Out

“A sharply realistic play still willing to speak for love, however guarded, as the central human value.” City Limits

 “Fantastically gripping.”  What’s On

 “Moving stories in an Irish odyssey.”  Camden New Journal

Belfast Girl: A Love Story is playing on both sides of the Thames this Summer.  It opens on 20August 2013 at the London Theatre, New Cross, running nightly at 8pm until 24 August, with a Sunday matinee on 25 August at 4pm.  It then runs from 27 to 29 August nightly at 7.30pm at the Babble Jar, Stoke Newington and from 30 August to 1 September at the Precinct Theatre, Islington, with all performances there also at 7.30pm.  Tickets can be bought on the door, from the London Theatre Box Office (www.thelondontheatre.com), and from www.irish-theatre.com .

Belfast Girl: A Love Story