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Monday, 30 June 2008

One woman's French Foly

Right up front it has to be said that this is far from being a hard-hitting news piece. And what's more it'll probably only have a limited appeal bearing in mind that among the roll call of names are those that will only be familiar to the French, or French ex-patriots, Francophiles, Francophones and France-watchers.

There again there are some that will strike a chord around the globe, so forgive the indulgence. And if you’re in the slightest bit curious keep reading to discover an account of a rollicking good evening spent watching a performance that had the audience proverbially “rolling in the aisles”, whooping with laughter and grinning from ear-to-ear for more than two solid hours.

All right it was probably a public easily won over and which had come to see the launch of a very special sort of one-man show. Or perhaps better said, a one-woman show, performed by Liane Foly.

She's no stranger to the French and it's as a singer that the 45-year-old has made her name over the years, releasing her first album in 1988 and following it up with a string of hits and the occasional appearance in films made for television.

But in her one-woman show "La Folle Parenthèse" Foly makes her first real venture into another area of entertainment entirely as an impersonator and she pulls it off with professional aplomb.

In it she single-handedly assembles some of the greats - past and present - of the French music scene, with some international artists thrown in for good measure along with politicians, television stars, and actresses.

The 19th century Théâtre Marigny just off the Champs Elysées in Paris, with seating for over 1,000 was packed to the rafters every night of Foly’s recent opening run as she sang, strutted, croaked and danced her way through 30 plus characters, interspersing her performance with rapier wit and wicked social and political comment.

Whether it was as a swooning parody of France’s first lady Carla Bruni-Sarkozy, or as a majestically strutting Socialist politician, Ségolène Royal, Foly slipped effortlessly from one imitation to the next with a minimum of costume changes, no gimmicks, and a simple mimic of gesture and mannerism to convince the audience that she really had brought along a whole cast of characters.

Accompanied by just two musicians – the pianist Jean Yves d'Angelo and his brother, Pierre, on the saxophone and percussion – Foly presented a simple plot to hold everything together.

She bantered as the gravel-voiced actresses Muriel Robin and Line Renaud, and later as Celine Dion in her rapid-fire French, with the imaginary Pedro somewhere at the back of the theatre.

Pedro wanted her to provide a possible line-up of improbable stars for a cabaret to be performed the following evening in St Etienne, a less than fashionable city in central eastern France better known perhaps as the former capital of this country’s bicycle industry and for its soccer team which in the 1960s and 70s dominated the French league.

A most unlikely venue for some of the past and present greats of the French music and film world and certainly not a place international stars would put high on their list of performance dates.

The scene set, Foly used the “audition” as a vehicle for some spot-on satire, political and social comment and some belting good songs - never letting the audience forget that not only can Foly hold a tune as herself, she can do it as a host of other people too.

As France Gall she warbled some French evergreens and as Sylvie Vartan she flounced about the stage, dangling a wandering microphone and flicking her non-existent lavish blonde locks

Actress Jeanne Moreau growled, the late Serge Gainsbourg's English-born wife, Jane Birkin, sang a tribute to her husband in her much-beloved and heavily accented French, Canada’s very own Mylène Farmer intentionally left everyone wondering exactly what she was singing about as she pirouetted mindlessly around the stage and had her ethereal music mocked for its incomprehensibility. Madonna went in for a touch of S&M just for a change.

Carla Bruni-Sarkozy flirted with the pianist as though he were the incarnation of her "Nicolas" and to the strains of la Marseillaise and huge applause on strode last year's defeated Socialist presidential candidate, Ségolène Royal, promising not to talk politics and then proceeding to do just that.

Into the mix Foly threw Christophe Willem - a former winner of France's answer to American Idol and the voice of music producer Orlando.

After performing non-stop for just over two hours, Foly was dragged back for the inevitable but hugely welcome encore to perform as two icons of French music no longer around – Barbara and Dalida.

And then, just when you thought there could be no more, France television’s own very dippy and often inappropriately-dressed 50-something meteorologist, Catherine Laborde, came on to give us an update on what weather would lie ahead for tomorrow, the night of the “real” performance.

Foly's run at the sumptuous Théâtre Marigny in Paris ended at the weekend and she’ll now be taking her show on the road around the country for the rest of the year – ending up back in the French capital in December for an encore at Olympia.

If any of the names here have meant anything to you, and you’re planning a trip to France at some time this year, this is one act – or a multitude of them – that you would be well advised not to miss.

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