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Bear with me: Sun Bear @ParkTheatre

If The Light House is an uplifting tale of survival, Sarah Richardson’s Sun Bear gives a contrasting take on this. Sarah plays Katy. We’re introduced to Katy as she runs through a list of pet office peeves with her endlessly perky coworkers, particularly about coworkers stealing her pens. It’s a hilarious opening monologue that would have you wishing you had her as a coworker to help relieve you from the boredom of petty office politics.  But something is not quite right in the perfect petty office, where people work together well. And that is her. And despite her protesting that she is fine, the pet peeves and the outbursts are becoming more frequent. As the piece progresses, maybe the problem lies in a past relationship, where Katy had to be home by a particular hour, not stay out late with office colleagues and not be drunk enough not to answer his calls. Perhaps the perky office colleagues are trying to help, and perhaps Katy is trying to reach out for help. It has simple staging

Songs of love war and death: Jacques Brel is Alive and Well and Living In Paris @CharingCrossThr

The songs of Belgian singer-songwriter Jacques Brel are given a slick and lively treatment in Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris, currently playing at the Charing Cross Theatre. Brel may be dead for nearly forty years, but under the direction of Andrew Keates and with a terrific cast comprising of Eve Polycarpou, Gina Beck, Daniel Boys and David Burt, Brel's complex songs are given a fresh new perspective and lease of life.

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris is a musical revue that dates back to the late sixties. It was an opportunity to present to English-speaking audiences the world of Brel with translations by Mort Shurman and Eric Blau, which are considered to best capture the spirit of Brel.

There is no particular story that holds the songs together; the performers move about the stage and amongst the band without saying anything. But over the course of the evening you become acquainted with Brel's song (each are complicated enough to be considered little three-act plays) and his sarcastic, wry observations about older generations, war, death and unrequited love. And if you are lucky enough to be sitting the cabaret seats at the front you may get Daniel Boys pouring your a drink.

But it is not all cheap thrills. There is also some sublime music making.  This is particularly apparent during the quiet songs such as The Desperate Ones, where as a quartet they sing in beautiful harmony barely above a whisper.

In the first half there are a series of songs about war. For Brussels, the performers dance and sing as if they are in a silent comedy sing Brel's sarcastic lines about how wise his grandparents were at a time when "a million guns got loaded and World War One exploded". The loss of life and futility of war seem to have greater currency alongside commemorations to mark the start of the First World War.

The second half focuses more on unrequited love and death. Eve Polycarpou stops the show with her heart breaking rendition of Ne Me Quitte Pas, which she sings sitting on the edge of the stage with a guitar. Later David Burt pops out of a coffin to sing Funeral Tango which is a hilarious song delivered with some impeccable comic timing (and coffin lid slamming). Gina Beck also delivers a beautifully light and biting version of Old Folks which is alternatively hilarious and tragic, with lines such as: "though you may live in town, you live so far away, when you have lived too long."

Mort Shurman and Eric Blau's translations are perhaps with the passing of time not always as biting as they could be for today's audiences and the power of these lyrics to shock may have diminished. But the production also takes Eric Svejcar's orchestral arrangements from the long-running 2006 Off-Broadway production, which adds a welcome variety to the show with its mix of musical styles of rock, folk and latin beats.

An excellent introduction (or refresher) into the world of Brel. Don't miss it. It runs at the Charing Cross Theatre until 22 November and tickets can be booked via the theatre's website.


First impressions after the show with @johnnyfoxlondon follow.

Photo credits: Scott Rylander

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