You may not think that you know Brel. But you probably do. Born in Belgium, but spending most of his life in France, Jacques Brel was a superstar. Although he died in 1978, he is one of those musicians whose work has been immortalised as others have reimagined and recreated his works, time after time.
I was first introduced to Brel by David Bowie and Nina Simone. Bowie’s BBC studio sessions, Bowie at the Beeb were a firm fixture of long family car trips and saw Bowie belting out Brel’s Ports of Amsterdam while Nina Simone’s cover of Ne Me Quitte Pas is a staple of those bluesy female mix tapes.
It was therefore with great excitement that I learnt that Silo would be paying its own homage to Brel. No less with a cast of some of New Zealand’s finest talent and with a very clever and talented design team all under the direction of Michael Hurst and musical direction of Leon Radojkovic.
Unlike Silo’s usual fares, this isn’t really a play but rather an illustrated concert. Situated in the Town Hall’s Concert Chamber Jane Hakaraia has created the perfect setting, built through an array of lamps (think lounge style, not theatre) and complemented by chaise lounge and drinks trolley. It is sort of meandering and cluttered, rising across multiple raised platforms, the band littered across the stage. But it’s not overly crowded or messy. It’s lived in, comfortable, creating that sort of dark and moody atmosphere that you dream of finding one day in some hidden away bar.
The lamps are functional and provide a warm ambience assisted by Sean Lynch’s subtle but quite clever lighting. There are no movers or LED shenanigans, but they (along with their inherent coldness) would have been totally inappropriate. Instead what you get is subtle but dramatic with beautifully animated shadows.The sort of shadows that you could almost miss but once you catch them seem to gain lives of their own.
And that’s before you even touch the talent (or the music for that matter). In this casting Silo have caught the perfect mix. There’s Jon Toogood, the effervescent show man, the rock star of Shihad fame and Jennifer Ward Lealand, one of our great lady’s of theatre (who I’m just waiting to get titled because she deserves it), Tama Waipara, the musician with the voice of molten gold and Julia Deans (from Fur Patrol and The Adults) who totally surprised and awed me.
Kicking off the show with La Diable (Ca Va), I’ll be honest and say that the first thing I noticed was Jennifer’s legs. Costume designer, Charlotte Rust really hit the money when she decided to put her in sky high heels and a tiny sequinned dress. But after that brief
whoamikiddingongoing distraction it was time to settle in to the music.
Here I feel like I may have cheated myself in my reporting back as I didn’t note down who sang what and what not so what I will say is that this show is a must see but also must be recorded. I have tried and tried to find recordings that I like but beside Brel’s own, there are very few who get it right on the money. This show does. Between Jon belting out Next like the true rockstar he is and then sliding into a totally dreamy duet with Julia in Alone, Jennifer spitting out with fierce personality the Funeral Tango and then Tama, every, single, time melting you away with the smoothness of his voice. Well. Not only do I want to find this place so I can sit there and drink there every night, but I’d also like them to serenade me to sleep.
Brel is on until the 24th at the Town Hall Concert Chamber. From what I’ve heard it is selling well so I’d get in quick and I’m telling you right now, money is not an excuse. This show is amazing. You can book tickets and get more info here and you can read more bits and bobs about Brel and the show at the Silo Blog here.
Brel performing ‘Madeleine’
And if you’ve read that Cheese on Toast review. I’m not sure if that girl actually went to the show or was just too blinded by the fact that she wasn’t in it herself.
Full disclosure: Jane Hakaraia is my mother and Sean Lynch is my devil father (he wasn’t allowed to be my god father). This does impact on my opinion, but nonetheless other reviews seem to be just as glowing.