Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

Gambolling Arena Theatre Company
Unity Theatre, 21st-22nd July 2005

Reviewed by Adam Ford

Though already famous in much of the French-speaking world, Belgian-born cabaret composer Jacques Brel only really hit the bigtime when his friend Mort Schuman translated his lyrics into rhyming English and brought the songs to the stage in ‘Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris’. Brel’s blend of the highly personal and the delicately subversive won him many devoted admirers, including artists such as Leonard Cohen and David Bowie.

The company of one male and three females exhibited varying degrees of talent but united enthusiasm throughout their revue, which took in all of the tremendous breadth and depth of Brel’s early output. Though the poor tinny backing track gave the evening a karaoke feel, it was impossible not to be swept up by the emotion both of the songwriting and the energy of the performers. Nick O’Connor wrung every last drop out of songs such as the polemical anti-war anthem ‘Next!’ and the hell-hath-no-fury of ‘Girls and Dogs’. Cheryl Doyle showed-off her angelically fragile voice on ‘Old Folks’ and ‘I Loved’, while Clare Chandler showed power and technical finesse in her renditions of ‘Carousel’ and ‘Marieke’. Though Emma Spike was not given anywhere near enough to do, she proved to be a strong backing singer.

These days Jacques Brel isn’t alive anywhere, but for a wonderful hour and a half his music lived on through the endeavours of Southport-based Gambolling Arena. If they are always as good as this, an evening with Gambolling Arena is a guarantee of a good time.

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