Sarah-Louise Young & Michael Roulston
La Poule Plombée: Je Regrette!
The Crazy Coqs, London, U.K., February 16, 2017
Review by Thanasis Kalantzis for Cabaret Scenes
For three glorious days, the Crazy Coqs was overtaken with French fever. La Poule Plombée appeared on stage! The name is enough to send shivers to all her admirers, be those in the Edinburgh festival where she won multiple awards, venues across the U.K. and London’s West End, New York, Berlin or the Adelaide Cabaret Festival.
La Poule Plombée: Je Regrette!, the show-title of the ultimate, ageless, second-rated French chanteuse, is the artistic creation (named one of Time Out’s Top Ten Cabaret Acts of the year) of the high-octane cabaret duo of Sarah-Louise Young and Michael Roulston who have taken the U.K. by storm. She is the vocalist, the divina, and he the subservient pianist who accompanies her at her gigs against his family’s will and his better judgment. The well-known creators of character cabaret have originated both the full score of 10 songs and the poignantly crafted story that engulfs La Poule Plombée’s vie tragique.
In French, the title translates to “The Frumpy Pigeon” and “Je Regrette” means, you guessed it, “I regret” — and you are halfway there in understanding the nature of the show. La Poule is a creature of contradictions: sensitive and fragile, she is in love with all of us, but she also threatened to kill herself and others with a big kitchen knife, had what looked like an epileptic (or was it jealous?) fit, the range of her feelings registers in the phenomenal and her psyche is psychotic. With one gesture, one look, she can make you follow her forever, or dismiss you and have you forever beg for her favors — a mesmerizing Norma-Desmond-meets-Joan-Crawford concoction that had my date and me totally drunk on only one bottle of wine.
We forgave her for all her shortcomings, for, joking apart, she sang beautifully!
In her first song, “My Voice,” she weaved a hymn to her own voice: a force of nature that can cause hurricanes and earthquakes and make the flowers bloom; it can also re-arrange your internal organs, fracture double-glazing and raise the dead. “Some Men Just Don’t Translate” discussed her adventures with the many men she met on her travels in Europe. Using a string of clichés, she sang about the flaws, amongst others, the French, the Spanish, The Dutch, and the Britons. With her “Surrender,” she promised to hold us in her arms and to keep us from harm on one condition: we have to abandon our free will and hand over our souls to her. To her it only seems fair. As for me, I could not help but think of a certain celebrity-turn-politician and his outrageous statements.
In the end, of course, everyone abandons her. In “My Little Black Dress” she explains how that flattering piece of clothing is her only best friend and has witnessed some spicy stories, for example the one with Jacques Brel! What she meant was left to our imagination and probably hers. In the “Baggage” her life turned when she fell madly in love with a luggage handler at a provincial airport. Her imaginary love was shattered when she caught him carrying another woman’s suitcases.
It was in her “Thin Skin” she took the mask off. The song can be described as La Poule Plombée’s hymn and catharsis. In it, with sincerity, she wonders “can anyone see me?” meaning the woman behind the antics. In “La Poule’s Encore” she gave us one, reverting back to all the adoration the diva has for herself and for her audience, in that order.
La Poule Blombée: Je regrette! is done with finesse, pizzazz and professionalism at its highest level that can only be described as a masterclass in character cabaret — and the packed room’s explosive reaction on the delivery of her every perfectly timed line was a testament to that. Successfully treading on stereotypes, the duo presents a perfectly thought-out, flawlessly pitched tortured persona that was made famous by Edith Piaf, its notorious master (and La Poule’s hateful competitor): the little bird with the big voice who can easily turn into a bitch. Only pain and disappointment are feelings strong enough to express the magnitude of her tragic life and quench her abysmal thirst for love. Not slipping out of character once, Young’s French pronunciation and tragic mannerisms were impeccable throughout the show, as was her French-accented singing — a solid proof of mastery in her craft.
It was also a class on improvisation as the performer brilliantly conversed with the audience making perfect impromptu use of the information she asked for and was given.
Michael Roulston, who co-wrote and artfully arranged the songs, did not only act the pianist who has sacrificed his life for the diva, he also played the piano beautifully throughout the demanding show.
The abundant, highly entertaining, highly creative show returns to the Crazy Coqs on March 5th as part of the venue’s French Fest. Don’t miss it, or La Poule will be very, very angry!