Her last major role was as Eva Peron in the 2006 West End revival of Evita, and now Argentinian Elena Roger has gone from one iconic woman to another undertaking the role of Edith Piaf in Piaf. Opening last night at the intimate Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden, Pam Gems' biopic returned to the West End stage in a revamped format 30 years after it was first performed.
Telling the story of Piaf's life from being discovered on the streets of Pigalle, through involvement in murder, the resistance, affair after affairs, and ultimately a destructive spiral into alcohol and drug abuse, this was 95 minutes of high drama, albeit with several laugh out loud scenes. Save Roger and the chuckling Lorraine Bruce as Toine, each of the other 8 cast members play various characters throughout Edith's life. Katherine Kingsley, in particular, is dazzling as Marlene Dietrich and long suffering assistant Madeleine. With sex scenes and swearing aplenty, this is no leisurely ride and at times it felt eerily close to comfort with visions of Amy Winehouse's current problems easily conjured up, in particular in a scene set in the Ritz.
But ultimately - what a performance. Elena Roger nailed Piaf's singing techniques and manged to be convincingly French in what must surely be an award winning performance! We've never seen a standing ovation last for over 5 minutes as this did, but we were certain it was deserved. Plus, if you've not been to the Donmar, we urge you to try it. A blank floor and backdrop are surrounded on three side by seats, with a small three row circle. You can see from everywhere and it's intimacy made this intense show even more so. Unfortunately advance tickets for Piaf are sold out so it's down to the 10 day seats, and 20 standing spaces available on the day of performance each day from 10.30am. A lot of effort, but it's worth it.
Piaf runs from now until September 20th at Donmar Warehouse, Earlham Street. Find out more here.