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Piaf On The Pier: Andrew Farr at PierFest

- July 26, 2021

Some shows are worth seeing more than once and Andrew Farr’s beautifully realised homage to the great French chanteuse Edith Piaf is one such show. I first saw this in its first incarnation a few years back in Brighton Fringe. A longer work back then that started with Farr recalling his childhood discovery of Piaf whilst cleaning the family car with his father and listening to Desert Island Discs.

Since then the show has been condensed and refined so now Farr appears as Piaf from the start in a format that sees him seamlessly drift from Piaf to personal anecdotes in a way that is also reflected in his unique and perhaps gender fluid representation of the little sparrow. This is far from a simple act of female impersonation, it is far more complex than that and as a result far more successful.

Farr is quite clearly a super fan but, unlike so many super fans, this is no glossy tribute, this is a warts and all reflection on a life lived to the absolute full. In her own words Piaf describes her terrible childhood, life in her grandmother’s brothel, on the road with her circus contortionist father and her desperate dips into poverty, alcohol and prostitution. The latter perhaps not such an ordeal as it becomes clear that Piaf was not only addicted to pain killers and booze but also to sex. The passage recounting her almost countless lovers has the air of a Gilbert and Sullivan patter song – and that list she makes clear does not include the one night stands!

So much for for the dramatic content which Farr delivers with conviction and with style but then on to the songs. Piaf’s voice was distinctive, it could be described as coarse but there would be few who would deny that it was intensely passionate, heartfelt and affecting. Farr captures this in every note, he has a fine voice for sure, but what he does here goes beyond that. His renditions of those iconic songs capture the essence of Piaf in the most impressive way, no, you are not hearing a vocal impersonation, but what you are hearing is a deeply moving interpretation of her style, her tone and her ability to inhabit a song in a way that touches your heart and your soul.

I have seen this work now several times and experienced how it grows. The current version is the most affecting to date and last night at PierFest it was the best it has been.

Author and performer Andrew Farr has created something extraordinary, a stunning tribute in words and song that deserves an international audience, Piaf lovers everywhere will surely love this fine work of theatre.

Piaf on the Pier: PierFest 2021

25 July

Andrew Kay

Rating: ★★★★★

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