Christine Bovill sings Piaf at Cambridge's Town and Gown

Christine Bovill

Christine Bovill - Credit: Supplied by Town and Gown Theatre

Angela Singer reviews Christine Bovill's Piaf at The Town and Gown in Cambridge.

This show is magnificent. It’s a blinder. It’s a blast and it’s a must see.

Christine Bovill walks on stage and powers out an Édith Piaf song. Immediately, she has the audience in the palm of her hand.

She also has them laughing. She gets the jokes in early – and keeps them going.

Accompanied by Simon Wallace on the piano, a golden collection of sublime musical numbers follow. Some are heart-wrenching, but between each one there is an amusing story, mostly about Piaf – the French singer who charmed the world from the 1930s to the 1960s.

Sometimes they are about Christine herself, a naughty schoolgirl in the 1980s – who guess what – hated French. Bovill’s voice is both passionate and gentle. If Piaf sung like this live, no wonder audiences fell at her feet.

Piaf’s life, says Bovill was one of “incredible triumph and unspeakable tragedy.”

Most Read

She tells the story of the diminutive singer, born in 1915 who the French people called the Little Sparrow. 

We hear the story behind each famous song. How it came to be and what it meant to the woman who wrote the songs and sung them. 

Bovill also tells her own story and is very funny about it. Having despised French and loathed school altogether, she loved jazz as a teenager and discovered an old record of a Piaf song.

She played it and was transfixed. She learned French to be able to sing it. She took a degree in French, then taught French. 

After 14 years as a schoolteacher who sang in jazz clubs at night, she finally left school. 

She won the Glasgow Festival of Songwriting. Her first album Derby Street was BBC Radio Scotland’s Album of the week.

At one of her sold-out Edinburgh Festival shows she shared the stage with Edith Piaf’s close friend and last composer, Charles Dumont. Like Piaf, she has sung across the globe.

After belting out L'Accordéoniste, La Vie En Rose, Milord, Sous Le Ciel de Paris, and Non, Je Ne Regrette Rien, she smiled as the audience at Cambridge’s Town and Gown pub theatre cried out “encore” – and “une autre” from a group of delighted young French people in the back row.

The chanteuse obliged with a beautifully sung surprise.

Christine Bovill will be at the Brasserie Zédel, Piccadilly, London on February 24, and the Greenwich Theatre, London on March 6.  

She will return to the Town and Gown Pub & Theatre in Cambridge later this year.