POLISHED: Cat Simoni and Paul Spence as Fran�oise Hardy and Jacques Brel.

Françoise Hardy and Jacques Brel, So Alive, |So Well

DIRECTOR: Paul Spence

CAST: Cat Simoni and Paul Spence

VENUE: Rosebank Theatre,

UNTIL: Saturday

Rating: ***

GALLIC sophistication and warmth give distinctive character to this evocation of Paris in the early 1960s as two icons of popular French music are celebrated: winsome Françoise Hardy and worldly wise Jacques Brel, respectively impersonated by Cat Simoni and Paul Spence, who devised and directs the revue.

We find ourselves in the Café l’Amour, a tiny venue hectically decorated and draped to create a sense of intimacy; a muted recording of French chatter adds to the nightclub ambience as the audience take their seats.

The American owner of the establishment (Spence) takes centre stage with a monologue designed to create the mood of 1961, the mood of a society hell-bent on pleasure as the swinging new decade gets under way. There are references to the two Yves (Montand and St Laurent), and to Brel himself, a prelude to the first song about Waiting for Madeleine, in which Spence is joined by the pianist of Café l’Amour (Simoni).

Here the real strength of the show becomes apparent in polished execution of Brel’s lyrics, sung in heavily-accented English by the pair as they rush through the piece at breakneck speed with the utmost confidence – a foretaste of the calibre to follow. They exit severally to metamorphose into Brel and Hardy….

Hardy meeting Brel in a venue such as this is engineered to give them the plausible opportunity to trade biographies, memories and preferences as well as to perform solo and together (mostly the former).

At this point in her career Hardy is barely out of her teens, fresh from busking in the streets of Paris; Brel is already an established celebrity, and what they have in common is seemingly inexhaustible reserves of inspiration for song-writing. Their work is raw, edgy, and original, its sentimentality and occasional pathos countered by wry humour. A subtle intimacy is bred between them both as individuals and performers, and this makes their duets particularly appealing.

Apart from predictable numbers like All Over the World, Only Friends, Mathilde and If You Go Away, there are inclusions like the theme from Casablanca. Simoni’s impeccable command of accent and persona never falters, and while Spence’s accent is less reliably sustained, he convinces as the poetic, emotional and creative Brel. Their vocal prowess is the mainstay of this show’s merit, making Café l’Amour well worth a visit.