The Accordionist

Bethany Jameson and Romano Viazzani
Vérité Productions
New End Theatre
(2011)

The Accordionist production photo

There is a danger when writing a theatre piece that you mean to perform yourself: sometimes you just put in the things you want to perform with little regard for the audience. Whether it is through vanity or through blindness, the result is the same. Unfortunately, this seems to be the case for The Accordionist.

Bethany Jameson plays Jacqueline Lacroix, a singer stuck doing Piaf tribute shows. When she meets her new accordionist, played by Romano Viazzani, she faces a blast from her past.

The paper-thin plot ties together a collection of songs, some Edith Piaf’s, some written by the performers. Whilst Jameson pulls off a full-throated and easy on the ear Piaf, her own songs are somewhat harsher to listen to. As they stretch the limitations of her range, it’s hard to believe that they were written for her and although there are some decent lyrics and tunes in the show, they don’t always fit together. ‘I’ve Just Bought A Brand New Dress’ in particular didn’t seem to match words with music and singer, despite some good lyrics. There are also some bad lyrics: ‘Parallel Universe’ is as bad and eighties as the title implies.

As well as the songs, the show’s gimmick is that Viazzani is mute until a short monologue near the end. His flimsy excuse for his lack of speech does nothing to alleviate the irritation of having him shrug and stare blankly at the comments and questions from Jacqueline.

His lack of speech mean that all the plot progression has to come from Jacqueline and, with no one to respond to her except in music, there is precious little of that. As she gradually reveals how it is that the two know each other, we realise that it wasn’t worth the wait. Once the bare facts are laid out with a couple of songs in an attempt to beef up the emotion, the audience is still left knowing little about their relationship and not really caring to know more.

The sub-plot deals with alcohol issues, but this is dealt with in an even more shallow manner than the relationship. The writers seem to have mistaken a few Wikipedia-esque facts about the habits of drinkers for depth and insight. Once a few facts are laid out, once the secrets are revealed, the sub-plot is brushed under the carpet and forgotten; there are no follow-throughs to the revelations and they have no bearing on the show.

In the show, the couple are urged to stick with doing tribute concerts rather than branching off and doing their own material. Sadly, the same could be said of them in real life. Whilst the Piaf songs are performed well with Jameson’s sultry French and accompanied with skill on the accordion, the rest of the show is bland and shallow.

Reviewer: Emma Berge