In a return to small scale works, yellow glass theatre has produced an agreeable version of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well in Paris.
Directed by founding members Chris Kabay (Director) and Simon Holt (Musical Direction), this cabaret of Jaques Brel songs is unadorned and enjoyable.
Born in Belgium in 1929, Brel spent most of his life in Paris. From the 1950’s until his death in 1978, he wrote and performed songs in French, as well as acting in musicals and film. Jacques Brel is Alive and Well in Paris, written by Eric Blau and Mort Shuman in 1968, contains English translations of Brel’s songs.
There is no plot and no dialogue. Instead, the audience is treated to 1 hr and 20 minutes of Brel's poetic songs about love, war, society and life. Many of them are slightly bitter and ironic, with some interesting and funny twists, such as the case of ‘Middle Class Pigs’.
yellow glass’s adaptation of Jacques Brel is Alive and Well in Paris is arranged for one man (Mitchell Goode) and two women (Ruth Wilkin and Sharon Wisniewski). All three are exceptional performers, graduates of WAAPA and regulars with yellow glass theatre. I particularly enjoyed hearing Wisniewski’s deep resounding alto.
The songs in which they sang together were harmonic and delightful to listen to. The fast paced songs which involved almost continuous singing were executed with ease.
War (and peace) was a common topic, mentioned in numerous songs including ‘If we only have love’: If we only have love / We can melt all the guns / And then give the new world / To our daughters and sons.
Brel also focussed on the ‘dregs of society’, as in song ‘Amsterdam’: Then out to the night / With their pride in their pants / With the slut that they tow / Underneath the street lamps / In the port of Amsterdam.
The lyrics resounded with me, with moments where I thought the performers could be singing just to me and my thoughts. It was easy to listen to the lyrics, in part because the performer’s diction was impressive, but mainly because I found the music a little repetitive.
Brel uses similar beats and accents in his songs, to the point where I kept thinking I had heard the songs before. In fact, I may have. Brel’s translated songs have been sung by the likes of David Bowie, Nina Simone, Sting, Cyndi Lauper and Scott Walker.
For an 8pm performance, the doors did not open until 8:10, which I find frustrating and a little unprofessional. Whilst the studio space at Subiaco Arts Centre is wonderfully intimate, I feel the show would have worked better in a cabaret venue such as Downstairs at the Maj.
A well designed black and red set by Brad Reid consisted of two risers either side of a red painted floor. Screens topped the risers, and were used to project slides as well as backlight the performers. At the back was a very impressive small scale replica of the Eifel Tower, which appeared to be the only reference to Paris.
Congratulations to Ben Clarke who ably accompanied the trio on piano. The performers sung with emotion and thought, understanding the songs and belief in the lyrics.
This is a welcome return to more personable shows from yellow glass theatre.
yellow glass theatre inc presents
Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris
Venue: The Studio, Subiaco Arts Centre, Hamersley Rd, Subiaco
Dates: 6 - 8, 11 - 15 March
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing 9484 1133, www.bocsticketing.com.au
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