AN image of an elderly, pearl-draped woman, taken by photographer Brassai in the Bar de la Lune in Montmartre in 1932, was the catalyst for this extraordinary production.
The woman was known as Bijou and, while little is known about her, her image inspired Canberra actor/writer, Chrissie Shaw to create and perform this exquisitely evocative cabaret about a wonderfully irascible, mischievous, beguiling story-teller.
Shaw draws on all her theatrical skills, honed over a career of remarkable performances, to create a totally believable, fascinating character, who sings, dances, teases, flirts, and ultimately breaks your heart, as she rummages through her recollections, rewinding her life as a survivor of the “Great War”.
Her stories are funny, horrifying, pathetic and sometimes profoundly sad, but all have the ring of truth… or are they just the ramblings of a manipulative, clever, old woman desperate to hold the attention of the audience, who, unwittingly, have become another character in her stories?
Susan Pilbeam’s unobtrusive direction carefully guides Shaw through Imogen Keen’s warm, glowing Bar de la Rue, decorated with flickering candlelight and rich fabrics. Curtains become bridal veils, and table numbers morph into sensuous props as Bijou moves among her audience, dancing a la Mata Hari, or singing with a voice that has known life, the cleverly chosen collection of songs which advance and embellish her stories.
Liz Lea has devised dances that fit the character as beautifully as Victoria Worley’s luxurious collection of faded finery and Gillian Schwab bathes the whole proceedings in ever-changing, dramatic, moody lighting.
Alan Hicks is superb as the long-suffering bar-pianist, providing a strong supportive presence, sensitive piano accompaniments and even gentle vocal harmonies. All are essential contributions to a riveting tour de force performance by Chrissie Shaw in this gloriously entertaining, beautifully realised production.