a cabaret of Secrets & Seduction
Bijou is a dramatic, curated tour through the life of a Paris madame, set to the sound of waltzes, foxtrots and old mournful music from a bygone era. Bijou (Chrissie Shaw) sweeps into a salon where the audience sits at tables, awaiting their host. She is visibly old, but far from faded, greeting all enthusiastically and launching into a spirited recollection of her life. It is a meandering tale of trysts and travails as Bijou leaps around, hopping from love affair to love affair and recounting every memory, glorious or grim, along the way. She relives her youth and the Great War with equal passion.
Whether speaking in French or English, Shaw’s unbridled emotion and infectious charm shines through, lending life and drama to scenes that in other hands could be quite inconsequential. The intimacy she fosters with lingering touches on forearms and occasionally risque audience participation transforms an overblown account into an invested emotional experience. Throughout, Alan Hicks’ beautiful, intricate music as the long-suffering salon pianist carries the audience along inexorably on a journey through time and space that is always entrancing, often funny, and never dull. Once again, the Depot Theatre’s intimate theatre space has bred a strange but satisfying production.
Four and a half stars
Aug 18th 2016 Sam Baran
‘Bijou’ by Chrissie Shaw
– Depot Theatre
– Review by Matthew Raven
The Depot Theatre has been transformed. Walk through into the theatre and you’ll find yourself transported to a Parisian cabaret fronted by the wonderfully cheeky Madame Bijou. Between burlesque inspired striptease, foxtrots and heckling the pianist, Madame Bijou takes you on a private, intimate journey through the triumphs and turmoil of her dramatic life story (stopping momentarily to interact with the audience and gather some well-deserved tips).
BIJOU is a triumph; a glorious and uplifting look into the underground artistic world of post-war Paris. Chrissie Shaw is phenomenal as she glides around the stage charismatically performing her role to perfection regardless of whether she is required to sing, monologue or completely internalize her character. Just as you begin to grow comfortable in Bijou’s whimsicality, you’re brought shatteringly back to Earth when she off-handedly brings particularly horrific moments of her life in such a way that almost makes them seem run-of-the-mill. The highs and lows of this cabaret make it a stand out in one of Sydney’s most under-represented genres.
Alan Hicks as the accompanist and back-up singer is also remarkable. Not only for his piano skills (they’re incredible) but also for his stoic, exasperated expressions in response to Bijou’s perpetual sass. It adds a great dynamic to the atmosphere and enhances the authenticity of the production and setting.
BIJOU is one of the better shows I’ve seen in a long while. Well written and designed and perfectly cast, this production has all of the elements you need to create an incredible show.
Don’t forget to bring tips.
BIJOU finished up on the 27th, but if Chrissie and the team reive this one don’t miss it.
Secrets & Seduction
Kim Townsend Sydney Scoop 20th Aug 2016
Arts & Entertainment Reviews
The Bar Du Depot is the setting for Bijou – A Cabaret of Secrets & Seduction. The moment you step through its portal from the friendly bar of the Depot Theatre Marrickville, you are transported to the Paris of the 1930’s, complete with cabaret style, dusky candle lit bistro tables and a piano man playing an ancient Beale upright. It truly feels authentic. This is the world of Chrissie Shaw’s Bijou, the elderly woman made famous in a series of unforgettable pictures by the French photographer Brassai.
Chrissie Shaw first saw Madame Bijou six years ago in a print of one of Brassai’s photographs. It inspired a research journey through the Paris of the late 19th and early 20th century that has culminated in her writing a show that is as historical as it is moving.
As Chrissie Shaw steps into the spotlight at the Bar Du Depot, you get the feeling that she has lived it. Alan Hicks, who stars alongside Bijou as her pianist, seems right at home. He sets the opening mood with a slightly melancholy repertoire featuring snippets of Debussy, Duparc, Hahn and Poulenc and cleverly conveys the world-weariness of Depression era Paris. It’s a prelude of things to come and it’s evident right from the start that Hicks is a master craftsman of his instrument. You want to hear more and he does not disappoint. Much to the good-natured chagrin of Alan Hicks’ pianist, the old lady Bijou is a scene stealer. Chrissie Shaw masterfully engages the audience using direct contact that is both enjoyable and skillful enough to avoid embarrassment as she begins to weave her tale. She looks the part, the attention to detail by costume designer Victoria Warley in delivering a living portrait of this character is outstanding, and her unexpected rendition of a Charleston catapults the audience back into the roaring 20’s and is a great example of Shaw’s versatility as a performer.
What follows is impressive. Shaw tells Bijou’s tale, alternating between monologue and song. Her voice has the rasp of age, integral to the character she is playing, but is strong and expressive. Bijou’s story jumps between the decades from 1870 to 1933 as the character’s mind rambles through different periods of her life. Throughout the show the music has been cleverly selected and representative of each era. At first Bijou’s story is a little hard to follow, meandering as it does non-consecutively through the decades of her life, but it quickly becomes apparent that Shaw, is a clever story teller and as she starts to pull the threads together, the true horror of Bijou’s early child hood and the repercussions it has on the rest of her life become clear.
Chrissie Shaw handles the musical repertoire more than capably, switching from ingénue to tired cabaret star with ease while juggling the lyrics in English, French and German. The really memorable musical moments come when Hicks lends his voice to hers, providing some truly beautiful harmonies as he portrays the in turns sympathetic and exasperated pianist – a clever foil for Shaw’s showmanship.
Bijou – A Cabaret of Secrets & Seduction is ultimately a story of survival that is everything from sordid and sad to funny. In writing and performing it, Shaw has combined myth with history and comes up trumps. Like so many others, you will fall in love with Madame Bijou.
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