A review by James Buxton w for EXTRA! EXTRA!

 

Verite Productions presents

 

The Accordionist

 

by Bethany Jameson & Romano Viazzani

 

Directed by Andrew Morton

 

New End Theatre

 

5 April – 24 April 2011
 

 

 

In this meta-theatrical musical, we are treated to a charming piece of theatre about inadequacy, alcoholism and the highs and lows of creative passion. It charts the unusual relationship between Jaqueline (Bethany Jameson), an Edith Piaf tribute singer, and her accordionist ( Romano Viazzani),  through a series of rehearsals for their latest show, culminating in a cabaret-esque performance for the audience.

Jameson puts on an impassioned performance as a Piaf impersonator, as she makes her way through a number of classic numbers and a few of her own. Though her voice never quite reaches the trembling zeniths of the legendary crooner, it is this very fact that makes her character all the more touching. For this is not simply a show about Piaf, rather, it is a play about coming to terms with your own ability, to escape from the definitions others have imposed upon you. How strange it must be for a real life tribute singer, to spend their life impersonating someone they'll never be as good as. This is the crux of the issue and Jameson approaches the subject with moving elan, capturing the spirit of Piaf's own tragic life.

It can be hard to engage an audience's attention throughout a two hander, due to the simple fact that the characters have to be interesting enough to sustain an entire play. So imagine the difficulties involved when one of the characters hardly speaks, save for a single monologue. Enter Romano Viazzani, accordionist extraordinaire - a silent, obstinate man who allows his instrument to do the talking. There is no doubt of Viazzani's talent as an accordionist, his fingers nimbly slide up and down the keys as he sustains jaunty melodies or  ferociously hammers out complex Bach harmonies. Though his facial expressions are somewhat contrived, Morton's direction allows Viazzani and his instrument to develop a neat symbiosis. His sighs of frustration subtly manifest in the susurrations of the contracting bellows.

The rehearsal room set is straight forward with a dressing screen allowing Jameson to be relatively obscured from Viazzani as she necks bottles of Vodka. The screen itself is a clever touch, reflecting the subtle shifts in lighting that temper the mood, illuminating the swirling face of Piaf and the Eiffel tower, whilst in the second act it is reversed, signifying Jameson turning over a new leaf as her outfit changes from sombre black to a lurid, gold spangled dress. On the other side of the screen, piano keys have been painted down one section, echoing the accordion's collapsible design.

The Accordionist is an enjoyable show, and despite getting off to a slow start, it redeems itself through the dynamic between Jameson and Viazzani. The two musicians are equally obsessive in nature, yet their characters are strikingly opposite, with Jameson playing the self-doubting, extrovert and Viazzani the introverted prodigy, in a functionally dysfunctional relationship. Silence is a key to enigma in theatre and Morton employs it well, contrasting Jameson's own uncertainties and swooning vocals with Viazzani's muteness. However the highlight of the show has to be Viazzani's   eloquent accordion playing. As his hands squeeze the sound out of the instrument's body, accentuating the warmth or melancholy in the music, we are transported to the street corners of Paris, where old men in berets play for pennies and music drifts like smoke, up into the night sky.

 

New End Theatre
27 New End
Hampstead
London NW3 1JD
Tuesday 5 to Sunday 24 April 2011
Tuesday to Saturday 7pm
Saturday & Sunday 3pm
Tickets
Tickets: £14, Concessions £12
Box Office: 0870 033 2733
http://www.offwestendtheatres.co.uk/index.php?where=new_end&showid=564

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