By Jack Goodall
A HERO in his native Belgium and his adopted France, the life of Jacques Brel was given centre stage in the Room Upstairs at the Palace theatre on Saturday.
Brel is dimly recognised in Britain for cover versions of his songs such as ‘Jackie’ and ‘Amsterdam’ by Scott Walker and David Bowie respectively.
In their musical ‘A Life A Thousand Times’, Far West Theatre push past the showbiz and glitz that often surrounds other people’s interpretations of Brel and give a truer portrait of the man with the help of his own words and those of his deservedly critical daughter, France.
The recorded backing music was only played at a modest volume and as such didn’t completely do justice to epic orchestral songs such as ‘Jackie’ but the intimate ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’, sung in the original French by Simon Pennicott as Brel was a clear emotional highlight.
Pennicott, who along with Linnie Reedman directed the musical also did well to cover so much new ground and resolutely steer clear of the style and presentation of the 1970s musical ‘Jacques Brel Is Alive And Well And Living In Paris’. The impressionistic yet casual performance of Kate-Lois Elliott as France also did much to personalise the story and give it it’s own identity.
The star of the show was the songs themselves and unlike many modern musicals where popular songs are crow-barred in, these songs flow naturally and were made for the melodrama of the theatre.