Music Review


Home Reviewers







“A Theatrical Cabaret


Performed by Claire Watling


Musical Director: Godfrey Johnson


Director: Geoffrey Hyland


Jermyn Street Theatre


21 July to 9 August 2009






A review by Barry Grantham for EXTRA! EXTRA!


When I was asked to review ‘Kissed by Brel’ now at the Jermyn Street Theatre, I was very keen to renew my acquaintance with the singer/songwriter
Jacques Brel.  He had been part of the cultural scene of my early years – that whole French bit – Sartre, Existentialism, Juliet Greco, Francoise Sagan, the Renoir films, Gauloise cigarettes, Cocteau, and Edith Piaf. I saw one of Piaf’s last performances at the Olympia, Paris, and fell right under her spell. I didn’t see a live performance by Jacques Brel, but heard him often, on LP, radio, and later television.  He was a very powerful and idiosyncratic performer, with little in common with the polite British and American artists of the time, and his songs dealt with darker themes, even his comic songs having a bitter note. More poet than songsmith, he built vivid pictures of inner life from the vocabulary of the ordinary man and woman of, first, his native Brussels and then, from the Paris which he made his home.

Miss Claire Watling sings some twenty songs in quick succession, and this is perhaps too much Brel to be digested in a single sitting, for the songs do sound very much alike, be they comic or tragic, fast or slow, quiet or strident. It is not a reviewers place to suggest a different show or a different format, but for those not familiar with Brel I don’t think a short introduction to each song, and even some brief mention of a not uneventful life, would be misplaced.

She.opens with Brel’s most famous song ‘Carousel’ - perhaps not a good idea; it was nice to hear it again, but I immediately felt something missing – the hypnotic quality I remembered, or thought I remembered. With the unfamiliar songs that followed I had difficulty following the, ever-so-important, words, partly because Miss Watling holds the radio-mike so close to her lips that she completely hides the lower half of her face.  In the middle of writing this I have gone to YouTube to see something of how he performed, and there are some splendid clips. Have a look at ‘Amsterdam’ and ‘Les Vieux’, particularly, and see how he savers each word, how the ‘r’s’ roll, how the lips enunciate, and he is careful not to be hidden behind the microphone.

The production (Geoffrey Hyland) runs smoothly, and Miss Watling and her able accompanist, Godfrey Johnson, are obviously familiar with each other and with the material.  We can be thankful to them both for a pleasant hour and for reminding us of this major artist and poet.    I don’t think anyone is credited with the translations which appear to be very good.



  Tues – Sat 8pm .Sat/Sun 4pm.

 Jermyn Street Theatre, 16b Jermyn Street, London, SW1Y 6ST

Box Office: 020 7287 2875  Book on

Tickets:  £16 Concessions £13












Copyright © EXTRA! EXTRA All rights reserved



Home Reviewers