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					Piaf

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Piaf - Introduction

Welcome to this introduction to Piaf by Pam Gems. It has been directed for the Donmar Warehouse by Jamie Lloyd

The VocalEyes audio-described performance at the Donmar Warehouse will be on Saturday 13th September. There will be a touch tour at 1.30p.m. The introductory notes will start at 2.15 and the performance itself at 2.30 pm. The performance lasts for approximately 1 hours and 35 minutes. There is no interval. The live audio description will be given for VocalEyes by Eleanor Margolies and Willie Elliott. There now follows information about the production, which includes descriptions of the set, characters and costumes. This will be followed by some useful information and contact details.

„Piaf‟ is set in various locations in France and America covering the singer‟s life from the 1930s to1963 when, to quote her friend, Jean Cocteau; „She died as if consumed by the fire of her fame‟. The story of Piaf‟s life is played out on the stage of a nineteenth-century theatre. A proscenium arch at the back of the Donmar stage frames the acting area. It reaches to the height of the ceiling, some five metres, and is elaborately moulded, with classical columns on each side, and a large shield placed in the centre above the stage. The arch must once have been painted an elegant pale cream with gilded details but it is now covered in thick dust and soot, with the paint peeling at the base of the columns. It feels as if we are visiting a long-abandoned theatre, which has been opened just for this performance. Two walkways – on the left and the right - lead through the stalls to the front corners of the stage floor. These are used by the audience entering the auditorium and also by the actors during the performance. The walkways and the front half of the stage are paved with small black cobbles, but the stage

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gradually evens out to a flat dusty floor under the proscenium arch, giving us a sense of both the streets of Paris and interior locations. A silvery light picks out the cobblestones and the faded grandeur of the arch. Beyond the proscenium, forming the back wall of the stage, there is a brick wall half-covered with old posters. Patches of print are just visible through the peeling black paint, including, on the right, the name PIAF in grubby white capital letters, running down the wall, as if a poster has been pasted on sideways. Behind the pillar on the right, there is a tall wooden door, with carved panels in an elegant Art Nouveau style and a large metal ring as a knocker. The door was long ago painted green but the colour is now barely visible through a thick layer of black grime. On the left, there is a doorway between the back wall and the proscenium arch, through which the performers can enter and exit. A company of seven men and three women play thirty-three named characters. Two characters, Edith Piaf and her friend Toine , are played by the same actors throughout. Members of the ensemble play all the other characters, some of whom only appear briefly. The scenes flow quickly into each other, often during a song and sometimes other characters help Piaf to change costume as she sings. When the dialogue resumes, we are in another country or have moved forward ten years. Throughout the play, two unseen musicians play the accordion and the piano. We first meet Edith Piaf in Belleville, a poor district of Paris, singing on a street corner. She is short and slightly built, with large dark eyes in a pale face. She has a wide, expressive mouth that is often drawn back in a mocking smile. As a teenager, she wears a beige beret pulled over a mass of black curly hair, and hugs a faded burgundy overcoat around her – it has no buttons and will otherwise fall open. She wears black lace up shoes but her legs are bare and she stands with her feet apart, firmly planted on the ground.

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When Piaf becomes a professional singer, she is given a stage outfit: a little black dress of satin, with a full skirt falling to just below the knee, long sleeves gathered at the wrist and a square neckline. She wears a small silver crucifix on a chain around her neck. To complete the look, she wears black highheeled court shoes. Her formal appearance contrasts with the gestures she makes as she sings on stage for the first time: deliberately suggestive, yet awkward, and almost agonised. Later, Piaf‟s hair is fashionably cropped, but she keeps her trademark dress. Her manner on stage becomes more assured. As she sings, she seems to make eye contact with every member of the audience. At the end of her life, she appears prematurely aged. Her back is bent into a deep stoop and her hair has become thin and brittle over her scalp. She uses walking sticks, then a wheelchair. But when singing, she radiates as much energy as ever. Piaf‟s friend Toine is an ebullient woman with a shining, round face and small, kind eyes. With her heavy-set frame, she usually stumps along as if her feet ache, but dashes with surprising speed when the occasion demands. When the play begins, she has a lank brown bob and worn, unflattering clothes: a pea-green cardigan with holes in the elbows, hanging open over a print blouse, a navy skirt and flat shoes. Like Piaf, Toine changes over the years, becoming gradually more affluent. Her old cardigan is replaced by a jacket and later by a tweed overcoat. Bruno, the theatre manager, is a tall broad man in his forties with thick brown hair swept back with a centre parting. He has a round fleshy face with fair bushy eyebrows and a matching moustache. Bruno moves smartly, stepping up to the microphone with confidence, dressed in a black dinner suit with a small black bowtie at the collar of his shirt. In the street, he wears a camel overcoat and matching trilby. The action shifts to the street outside a nightclub. We meet Leplee, immaculately dressed in a grey three-piece suit and black leather shoes. He is a slender, dignified figure. His ageing face is still handsome. He limps as he

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walks, supported by an elegant black cane. His oiled-back hair is greying at the temples and emphasizes a broad brow and well-scrubbed complexion. Leplee‟s deep-set eyes penetrate those around him, as he brusquely makes demands with a stillness that gives him a confident authority. Leplee‟s companion, Emile, is a tall handsome man in his early twenties with high cheekbones and a smooth complexion, emphasized by his greased back black hair. He stands tall and quiet, a cravat puffed up at the collar of his open necked shirt. Later, in the street, we meet the gangster trio that is Jean, Eddie and Little Louie. Jean is tall with short black hair flattened over his forehead. He is squarejawed and clean-shaven with a fresh complexion. He wears a turquoise waistcoat and open neck shirt. Eddie is tall, with short curly black hair. His skin is dark and smooth. He wears black braces over a grey vest, revealing broad, bare shoulders and muscular arms. Little Louie is much shorter than his friends and baby faced. His thick brown hair is parted to one side. His grey t-shirt with a horizontal stripe emphasizes his broad shoulders. Piaf‟s mentor, Raymond Asso is a tall elegant man in his thirties. His square jaw clenches as he directs Edith in rehearsal, sweeping his arms into poses for her to mimic, or manoeuvring her roughly into position. His black polo neck and greased back hair give him a severe, but charismatic demeanour. During the war, Piaf has a visit from two German soldiers in the blue uniform of the Luftwaffe. They are both dark haired and clean-shaven, boisterous young men, happy to party drunkenly for as long as they can. George is a resistance fighter, who moves from storming about the place in a fury, his smooth jaw tense, to melting into a pliable young boy, willing to do anything for female attention. His white shirt is open at the collar and worn over grey cotton trousers with black leather shoes.

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Later, in the street, Piaf encounters Louis, a cheeky young man in his twenties with a fresh smiling face and twinkling eyes. When we first meet him he is on his pushbike, the top buttons of his shirt undone adding to his open and carefree demeanour. After the war, Louis becomes Piaf‟s manager. Piaf‟s dear friend Marlene Dietrich comes to see her perform. Marlene appears effortlessly glamorous even in her khaki US Army uniform: she is six foot tall with glossy blonde hair falling in tumbling waves to her shoulders, and bright red lipstick. Later, in America, Marlene wears a mint green full-length gown that shimmers with sequins, and a white fur throw. Marlene introduces Piaf to Marcel, a North African boxer. He wears white silk boxing shorts. He is of medium height with a smooth shaved head and a broad athletic body. His biceps and pectorals bulge with muscularity as he dances around and swipes at his opponent, wearing brown leather boxing gloves. The aggressiveness of his sport belies his natural temperament, which reveals itself as gentle and attentive when he is with Piaf. On tour in America, Edith is supported by a singing ensemble of seven men called Les Compagnons de La Chanson. They are very sober in manner and wear black trousers with open-necked white shirts. One of the Compagnons is Lucien, a tall good-looking man in his twenties. He dresses all in black, with a polo neck sweater making him seem more slender. He tends to Piaf‟s needs with patience, standing by quietly as she rants at the world. In Paris, Piaf employs a secretary, Madeleine. She is perfectly groomed, with her hair caught up in a prim chignon. She wears a straight skirt and a pale green blouse tied with a pussycat bow. Only the bright red of her spectacle frames suggests that she has a spark of rebellion – even if it is usually kept well under control. Piaf‟s husband Jacques makes a brief appearance, visiting her in hospital. He is a fashionably dressed dandy with blonde hair, but his bulky frame is strong and he charges around trying to assert his authority. One of Piaf‟s protégés, Yves Montand, is a handsome young man in his twenties. Tall and dark haired, he stands nervously at an audition,

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uncomfortable in the cowboy getup he wears. The black Stetson on his head, though incongruous, does suit his striking features. He has a red cotton shirt buttoned with studs and rolled up at the sleeves. The shirt is tucked into blue jeans with huge turn-ups and he wears tan cowboy boots. We meet two other young men in Piaf‟s life. Charles Asnavour is a confident young man in his twenties, who lights up a room as he breezes carelessly into it. He is fresh faced, with thick brown hair parted on one side. And finally, Theo Lamboukas, who is also in his twenties, is tall and handsome, but painfully shy, almost afraid to say his own name. He stands with his shoulders slightly stooped, quietly attending to Piaf‟s needs. Production Credits Elena Roger plays Edith Piaf. Lorraine Bruce plays Toine Shane Attwool plays Bruno, and Jacques. Michael Hadley plays Leplee. Steve John Shepherd plays Emil, German Soldier, and Louis. Luke Evans plays Jean, German Soldier and Yves. Leon Lopez plays Eddie, Lucien and Theo. Philip Browne plays, Marcel. Stuart Neal plays Littlie Louie, Georges and Charles. And Katherine Kingsley plays Marlene and Madeleine. All other minor characters are played by members of the ensemble. The designer is Soutra Gilmour The lighting was designed by Neil Austin and the sound, by Christopher Shutt.

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Original music is by Ben and Max Ringham The pianist and Musical director is Nigel Lilley. The accordionist: Marcus Tilt. Piaf was directed by Jamie Lloyd.

Useful Information and Contact Details

Guide dogs are welcome at the Donmar Warehouse. If you are bringing a Guide Dog, or require any further information before your visit, please phone Ruth Waters or Kim Savage in advance. You can contact Ruth and Kim on 020 7845 5813 between the hours of 10am-6pm, Monday-Friday. If no-one is there, please leave a message and your call will be returned.

If an emergency situation or fire occurs during a performance and the theatre needs to be evacuated the following instructions will enable you to leave the building as quickly and safely as possible.

The production will be interrupted and an announcement made. The exits will be indicated by direction signs and voice, and members of the Front of House team will open exit doors and say, “This way out please”. If you have a sighted person with you please leave the building as directed, if you require assistance please remain in your seat and raise your hand. A member of staff will assist you to leave the building. The meeting point is outside Urban Outfitters at the corner of Earlham Street to the left of the Donmar if you are leaving the building from the main entrance.

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To contact VocalEyes, call us on 020 7375 1043. You can receive a copy of the free VocalEyes Newsletter with full details on all our work by calling us or by following the links on the VocalEyes accessible website. The Newsletter is available in print, Braille, on CD or via e-mail. The website address is www.VocalEyes.co.uk. VocalEyes is a charity funded by Arts Council England.


				
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