Jacques Brel embodied his era; his musical style, evocative of a philosophical rat-packer, fitted perfectly with the picture of France seen through the envious eyes of those in the grey, dreary England of energy rationing and emergency IMF loans. For those with intellectual pretensions, how could the Paris of the 1968 student revolt, Godard and the new-wave and, of course, the Satre-quoting, Gauloises-smoking, coffee-shop inhabitants of the left bank, possibly be resisted?
The extent of the obsession with France shouldn’t be underestimated and Brel came to personify the music (and, yes, he was actually Belgian but no matter). This obsession may explain the staggering fact that, after being scheduled for a two-week run in Cleveland in 1973, this show ran for more than two years and over 500 performances.
However all things must pass and interests move on to the next big thing. Brel has become something of a forgotten man, and nowadays I am not sure how many people under 40 have heard of him. One might suggest that the producers have taken rather a risk on reviving this rather curious show; would people who have never heard of Brel be interested in coming to see it, and would those who like Brel want to see his songs be reinterpreted through a musical revue?
These are tough questions but one of the answers lies in the talent of the performers. This is an opportunity to see a West End cast in an atmospheric and intimate venue. Gina Beck has previous as Glinda in Wicked, Daniel Boys came to prominence in the TV talent show, Any Dream Will Do, whilst David Burt and Eve Polycarpou are veterans of stage and screen. Watching up close you are reminded of the range and subtlety that West End stars possess – items that can get lost by the demands of performing in a 1000 seat venue with full-on technical wizardry.