Monday, March 17, 2003
Off to the Drill Hall yesterday with the Lecturer and the Architect to see Portraits in Song, Elizabeth Mansfield's one-woman celebration of the lives of Edith Piaf, and of Bertolt Brecht.
Accompanied by a lone pianist, Mansfield walks onto a bare stage as Piaf. We know all the songs: they’re as much a Parisian cliché as stroppy waiters and romantic affairs in grubby pensions. We're less familiar with the English lyrics, that very unfamiliarity throwing brand-new perspectives onto old favourites of love found, love lost, love sold, and love that'll never be. Technically, it's a flawless if a little soul-less performance, with Mansfield belting out (and spitting, if you were unlucky enough to be in the front row) a dusky, defiant delivery. But the real Piaf she ain't.
Apparently, half the fascination of watching that broken, tortured stick-insect of a woman perform, was rooting for her not to drop dead right there on-stage. Well, not until she'd sung Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, at least. The Piaf at the Drill Hall intimidated me so much, I'd jump in the Seine just to avoid her.
The strident delivery is better suited to Brecht's uncompromising, in-yer-face political words set to Kurt Weill's crashing, discordant music. They provide a neat commentary on both Brecht's life and the recent history of Germany. Vamping it up as an oddly seductive Mack the Knife, ready to slit your throat from ear to ear for just a couple of Reichsmarks. Barking the Ballad of Marie Sanders, the Jew's whore, as the Nazis rise to power. Frantically searching for both the next whisky bar and the next little (Yankee) dollar in a Hollywood-crazed Alabama Song. It was great stuff, and I could have done without the Piaf for more of the Brecht. But then I'm just an old and battered cynic at heart.