I have been to the Tabard Theatre several times. To me, it is a gem of a fringe venue. Warm and friendly in feel and bold and brave in its programming. While I stroll through leafy Chiswick on my way to watch Gigi, I ponder and, for the first time question, this boldness. It has been sixty years since the play was last performed in London. Is this for good reason? Has the brave Tabard been too bold for their boots this time?
I should not have worried. The play based on the 1944 novella by Colette and adapted for the stage by Anita Loos, is a joy, brimming with light and shade.
Yes, for a modern audience the subject matter is somewhat controversial. This is the story of the young native schoolgirl, Gigi. Primed to be a courtesan, she develops a strong bond with a much older man who ultimately falls in love with her. A beautiful tomboy, Gigi is indeed the kind of girl that Maurice Chevalier thanked heaven for.
With this in mind, director Mark Giesser, has been very clever. While not shying away from the original plot and its implications, the piece is sensitively managed and the pace remains crisp. There is a clear focus in its direction and an impressive cohesiveness.
The performance space, and the set within it, is tiny. Cold grey poles on four sides create a cage-like structure to reveal the sparse, 1900 Parisian home of Mme Alvarez, grandmother to Gigi. In turn, other sides of the cage are dropped to reveal the plush, rich red boudoir of ex-courtesan Aunt Alicia. It is a simple yet classy design by Christopher Hone. He obviously understands, and has enjoyed, the Tabard Theatre space.
It’s within this bijou little set that the impressive ensemble of actors play. Pamela Miles clearly revels in the role of still glam, Aunt Alicia and her comedy moments. The most delightful of these come when she is advising Gigi on life and men. “Wear this on your finger”, she instructs the girl handing her a doorstop of a twinkly ring, “and no one will dare to give you anything smaller!”. Clearly enjoying the role, her “There is no such thing as a beautiful cameo” line is delivered with a knowing, cheeky confidence.
Particular credit should also go to Zoe Teverson. As mother Andree, she has a tricky job. It is all so easy for an actress to go to town on this character and by doing so give an eye rolling, self-indulgent performance. This is something Teverson does not do. She brilliantly balances light comedy, (particularly in her drunk scene), with a touching fragility and brittle frivolity. In doing so she sparkles like one of Aunt Alicia’s diamonds.
And then, of course, there is Gigi herself. As soon as Daisy May bursts onto the stage, I am instantly drawn to her. A talented young actress, she drives the action with energy, verve and vivacity. With a perfect mix of vulnerability and sass, May brings a warmth to the stage that radiates throughout the audience. Ideal casting for what has become an iconic role. Indeed all casting by Lucy Jenkins and Sooki McShane is expertly spot on.
Clear, nimble design, perfect casting and astute direction, beautifully played. If you want a production full of honest heart and soul at a gloriously gusty fringe venue, I advise you to skip along to leafy Chiswick as soon as you can while tickets are available!
Review by Nikki Ward
Alces Productions presents GIGI
The original stage play
by Colette and Anita Loos
Directed by Mark Giesser
Paris, 1900. Gigi lives the carefree life of a schoolgirl particularly enjoying card games with her much-older friend Gaston, a wealthy playboy. But her background is that of a family of courtesans. When Gaston notices more about Gigi than her eagerness to play cards, her aunt and grandmother set their sights on an arrangement although Gigi has other ideas about her future. Will she prove as adept at romance as at cards?
Colette’s classic story was adapted as a Broadway comedy in 1951 by Anita Loos (Gentlemen Prefer Blondes), which then inspired the film and stage musicals. This original version of Gigi debuted in the West End in 1956.
Gigi returns to the professional London stage under the direction of Mark Giesser, whose production of Alan Alda’s Radiance played a box office record setting run at the Tabard earlier this year.
DAISY MAY (Gigi)
RICHARD LYNSON (Gaston)
PAMELA MILES (Alicia de St Ephlam)
PRUE CLARKE (Mme Alvarez)
ZOE TEVERSON (Andree)
ZOE SIMON (Sidonie)
Tabard Theatre, 2 Bath Road, London W4 1LW
Wednesday 28th October – Saturday 21st November, 2015
Tuesday to Saturday, 7.30pm; Sunday matinees, 2pm on 8th & 15th November
Act One: 45 minutes
Interval: 15 minutes
Act Two: 60 minutes