Paris in the 1930s. We are in a bar, sipping drinks, entertained by a pianist alone on stage. In walks Madame Bijou (Chrissie Shaw), the self-described Queen of the Demimonde. A woman regaling us with stories of her life and her pleasures.
The small Butterfly Club space, with its red drapery and upright piano, along with a couple of cabaret tables feels even more intimate than usual. Shaw, a 72-year-old theatre veteran, strides through the audience from the back of the house and we are transported.
The show flits from experience to experience in Bijou’s life, mostly focused on the men she knew at eleven and thirteen and eighteen and twenty-one. Some of these tales are bawdy; some are unsettling. Shaw’s character work through Bijou’s life is the show’s strength; we feel her adolescent uncertainty and the boldness she would gain as an adult.
Throughout the show, Shaw sings songs from the period – songs by Erik Satie, Emile Spenser and Kurt Weill. Alan Hicks plays piano and is an occasional sounding board or foil for Bijou.
There are genuinely moving moments in the stories and songs, but unfortunately the show lacks a strong narrative shape. The details in the show about the period and Paris and Bijou’s young life were evocative from moment to moment, but didn’t add up to much.
Follow your dreams, enjoy your pleasure and love is nothing but trouble. All interesting snippets of ideas, barely fleshed out.
“The mirror lies, much better to look in the glass,” Bijou says, as she contemplates another glass of wine. And I take another sip of mine.
This cabaret of secrets and seduction is full of both, but disappointingly unfocused.