When Jacques Brel died in 1978 at the age of 49 he left behind a body of work whose influence extends far beyond any barriers of genre, culture or age. Still, The Adelaide Cabaret Festival’s tribute show Love. War. Death. BREL is a puzzling affair.
The set seemed to want to represent a jaded French café with table and stools and a mildly littered floor. A piano with a violinist almost hiding behind it took up the rest of the stage and the musical accompaniment was a highlight of this show with some superbly emotive work from that violinist complementing the singers.
Quotes from Beckett, Camus and Sartre among others acted as a surprising and beautiful gateway into some songs.
BREL is presented with a highly polished performance from the singers and musicians. The trouble is it was too polished. Brel’s work is sophisticated but underlying that is a gritty melancholy, which was overlooked in favour of a glossy magazine style presentation. While some of Brel’s work is gloriously uplifting mockery he was always dealing with a time and a people who were broken by the effects of war with his own performances coming straight out of his Id directly into that of his audience. BREL takes a cerebral path to its audience, it made me want to go home and watch Woody Allen’s Midnight In Paris rather than have a drink to music. However, there’s certainly enough here to satisfy Brel’s many devotees and it’s worth the price of admission even for those not so acquainted with Brel’s brilliance as it provides an easy entry point to his work.
Lucy Maunder was the standout voice but John O’May and Helen Morse sung Brel’s major works with skill, and a wonderfully rousing rendition of ‘Carousel’ opened and closed the show.