Originally published 22 August 2012 at EdinburghFestival.org
PIAF – 22-25 August, 8pm, The Famous Spiegeltent
It’s not often you see something happen during a performance that turns it from being the merely spectacular into the unforgettable, but Tuesday night’s audience at the Spiegeltent in George Street for PIAF witnessed something quite extraordinary.
We had already heard impeccably phrased songs, gorgeously accompanied by piano, interspersed with understated stories about the legend that is Edith Piaf. The expressive and deliciously evocative voice of Christine Bovill was not that of an imitator or a ‘tribute’ singer – this was a startling recreation of the experience of listening to Edith Piaf. Bovill moved us through a delightful repertoire that covered some of Piaf’s most iconic songs, and the heart-tugging tragedy that was the background to so many produced many an emotional lump in the throat amongst the appreciative full house.
The hour was drawing to a close, and we’d heard mention of Piaf’s signature song, ‘No regrets’ and assumed it would probably be the finale. But then an extraordinary thing happened. Bovill, visibly excited and nervous, breathlessly announced that the composer of ‘No regrets’ Charles Dumont, was in the Spiegeltent. It was as if a bolt of lightning had struck, and the audience burst into spontaneous applause. Here, in the same venue that Piaf’s friend Marlene Dietrich had first made famous when she performed in Edinburgh, Dumont, a smiling, dapper and modest figure, made his way to the piano. And he sang to us. He sang ‘Je Ne Regrette Rien’ in a proud and sonorous tone, his fingers on the piano effortlessly recreating the song he’d written for Piaf 56 years ago. The applause that followed was thunderous, and the entire audience was on its feet, shouting, whistling, stamping its feet, smiling, and wiping tears from their eyes. Grown men wept, including the 83-year-old Dumont, visibly moved by the occasion and the ecstatic reaction of the Edinburgh crowd. “This is too much” he protested, grinning from ear to ear.
And then Dumont asked if Bovill would perform ‘No regrets’, and he retired to the background of the stage to listen. As her velvet voice sent shivers through the audience, he moved slowly closer towards her presence, grasping the shoulders of Bovill’s accompanying pianist and double bassist, tears welling in his eyes, with a beatific smile across his face. It was more than a moment of musical history – it was as if Piaf had been alive again for a few moments with us as she performed the song that was the first of over 30 written by Dumont for Piaf. This was the most extraordinary, unexpected, touching and emotional musical performance I have ever seen, and I, like every other person in that beautiful tent will hold the memory of it inside me forever.
As this goes to press, this show only runs for four more nights in Edinburgh. If you love music, and you want to experience something extraordinary, then run, fly, race to book your ticket immediately. To even be hearing echoes of this evening from the street outside would be a huge pleasure, but being in that beautiful, mirrored, circular space, hearing that voice, is a delirious experience you’ll carry within you for a very, very long time. Bovill’s stage presence and voice are exquisite, and the simplicity of the accompaniment and staging adds to the dramatic effect. This is indeed five star entertainment.