Jacques Brel: In Song and Dance

The songs of Belgian-born chanteur Jacques Brel are renowned for their colourful imagery and dramatic storytelling. His music oozes effortless Francophone charm. Upstairs in the French Institute of Scotland, Christine Bovill and Heels Over Head Dance Theatre reinterpret his oeuvre through dance and movement.

The show is sung by Christine Bovill, whose sultry inflections suited Brel’s style perfectly. Her throatiness, in combination with her Piaf-like outrageous rolled Rs, sometimes resulted in swallowed notes and hoarseness. Again this adds to the over-arching emotion of the songs, although I fear she may not last the run. Brel’s most famous number ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ came first in the set, and she seemed to have not quite reached her stride, but by her solo ‘J’Aimais’ she had me riveted.

Joining Bovill on stage was Agathe Girard, adding a layer of interpretation through the medium of dance and physical comedy. It was the more humorous songs in which she triumphed, with the younger characters of innocent Madeleine and bored schoolgirl Rosa coming off best. Her solo number ‘Les Bourgeois’ was effective through witty repetition of actions alongside the strophic song form. However, in the more sombre songs her presence was more a distraction, with ill-conceived choreography and frankly lacklustre clarity of movement.

The music came from two top performers; Dmytro Morykit on piano and Lizy Stirrat on the accordion. Stirrat’s time to shine came as the audience filed into the space, with astonishingly fiddly flourishes as she embellished a French waltz. Morykit kept the show together, but although his fingers were as nimble as Stirrat’s, his playing occasionally seemed insensitively bashy under the singer.

It may seem logical that Brel’s work should be brought to life on stage, especially when his back catalogue of hits contains such dramatic and evocative numbers as ‘Ne Me Quitte Pas’ and ‘Amsterdam’. However, in this production I felt that the often basic nature of the imposed dance-drama made such a staging redundant. With a few exceptions, Girard acted out the songs word-for-word, aping a physicalised translation of the lyrics. Instead of adding new insight into well-known works, the staging merely walked us through Brel’s stories with a surface-level interpretation. All in all, I left in a merry mood, waving my little Belgian flag and determined to Spotify Jacques Brel.

Reviews by James Robert Ball

Leicester Square Theatre

De Profundis

★★★★

Another Way

★★★

Solstice

★★★

The Walls

★★★

Since you’re here…

… we have a small favour to ask. We don't want your money to support a hack's bar bill at Abattoir, but if you have a pound or two spare, we really encourage you to support a good cause. If this review has either helped you discover a gem or avoid a turkey, consider doing some good that will really make a difference.

You can donate to the charity of your choice, but if you're looking for inspiration, there are three charities we really like.

Mama Biashara
Kate Copstick’s charity, Mama Biashara, works with the poorest and most marginalised people in Kenya. They give grants to set up small, sustainable businesses that bring financial independence and security. That five quid you spend on a large glass of House White? They can save someone’s life with that. And the money for a pair of Air Jordans? Will take four women and their fifteen children away from a man who is raping them and into a new life with a moneymaking business for Mum and happiness for the kids.
Donate to Mama Biashara now

Theatre MAD
The Make A Difference Trust fights HIV & AIDS one stage at a time. Their UK and International grant-making strategy is based on five criteria that raise awareness, educate, and provide care and support for the most vulnerable in society. A host of fundraising events, including Bucket Collections, Late Night Cabarets, West End Eurovision, West End Bares and A West End Christmas continue to raise funds for projects both in the UK and Sub-Saharan Africa.
Donate to Theatre MAD now

Acting For Others
Acting for Others provides financial and emotional support to all theatre workers in times of need through the 14 member charities. During the COVID-19 crisis Acting for Others have raised over £1.7m to support theatre workers affected by the pandemic.
Donate to Acting For Others now

The Blurb

A fresh, exciting and unique interpretation of Brel’s work, including multimedia, live music and dance. Raw and intense, poetic and captivating. Mostly playful. Experience for yourself why Brel has remained such a vibrant icon.

Most Popular See More

Come From Away

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Book of Mormon

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

The Play That Goes Wrong

From £15.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Pretty Woman: The Musical

From £24.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Dear Evan Hansen

From £30.00

More Info

Find Tickets

Mamma Mia!

From £18.00

More Info

Find Tickets