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Elena Roger Plays 30th Anniversary Piaf at Donmar

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Argentine actress Elena Roger (pictured) will play French icon Edith Piaf in the 30th anniversary revival of Pam Gems’ 1978 bio-play Piaf, which will run at the Donmar Warehouse from 13 August to 20 September 2008 (previews from 7 August).

Edith Piaf was born in Paris in December 1919 and – after a short tragic life, scarred by abandonment, drink and drugs addiction – she died on 10 October 1963, aged just 43. She is best remembered for her torch song classics including “La vie en rose” – which provided the title for the recent Oscar-winning movie about her life – “Milord”, “Hyme a l’amour” and “Non, je ne regretted rien”, which are sung in the stage show.

Piaf explores the torch singer’s life from when she was a teenager to her death. Gems’ play was first staged by the Royal Shakespeare Company at the same address (pre-Donmar days, when the space was known as the Warehouse), starring Jane Lapotaire in the title role, and revived in the West End in 1993 with Elaine Paige.

Roger made her West End debut in 2006 playing another 20th-century female icon, fellow Argentine Eva Peron, in Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s Evita, directed at the Adelphi Theatre by Donmar artistic director Michael Grandage. Piaf will be directed by Jamie Lloyd, whose credits include Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker and the Pinter double bill of The Lover and The Collection, currently at the West End’s Comedy Theatre. Lloyd has been newly appointed as an associate director at the Donmar.

Lloyd told the Daily Mail newspaper today that he has been working with Gems to reorder Piaf’s songs for more dramatic effect and to make the men in her life – including Yves Montand and the boxer Marcel Cedan – more distinct, rather than presented as a composite, as in the original production.

Just opened this week at the Donmar Warehouse, Peter Gill’s revival of his own play Small Change continues until 31 May 2008 and is followed, from 5 June to 2 August 2008, by Grandage’s production of Enid Bagnold’s The Chalk Garden, starring Penelope Wilton, Margaret Tyzack and Felicity Jones (The Archers, Flashbacks of a Fool), as the 16-year-old whose life is disrupted by the arrival of a new governess. Also in the cast are Steph Bramwell, Linda Broughton, Suzanne Burden, Jamie Glover and Clifford Rose.

Further ahead in the Donmar’s 2008 season (See News, 10 Sep 2007), dates and further creative details have now been confirmed for: August Strindberg’s rarely seen 1890 comic tale of obsession Creditors, in a new translation by David Grieg directed by actor Alan Rickman, who won a Whatsonstage.com Best Director Award in 2006 for My Name Is Rachel Corrie (25 September to 15 November); and, as part of a TS Eliot Festival, a revival of the author’s 1939 play The Family Reunion, directed by That Face’s Jeremy Herrin (20 November to 17 January).

The TS Eliot Festival will also include readings of: Four Quartets, performed by Stephen Dillane and directed by Katie Mitchell (14-17 January); Murder in the Cathedral, directed by Douglas Hodge (2 December); The Cocktail Party, directed by Jamie Lloyd (17 December); and an evening of Eliot verse, including The Wasteland, produced and directed by novelist Josephine Hart (1 December, 5 January).

The first new play offering of the new year will be a co-production with the National Theatre of Scotland, the world premiere adaptation of Scot Andrew O’Hagan’s Booker-longlisted 2006 novel Be Near Me, about a Catholic priest who, after years in England, takes over a working-class Scottish parish and is drawn into the unstable world of two local teenagers. The piece has been adapted by former Almeida artistic director Ian McDiarmid, who will also star as Father David Anderton. McDiarmid took the title role in Grandage's production of Pirandello’s Henry IV at the Donmar four years ago.

Be Near Me will be directed by Black Watch’s John Tiffany and will run in London from 22 January to 14 March 2009 after a premiere (at Kilmarnock's Palace Theatre from 14 to 17 January) in Scotland, where it will return afterwards as part of a seven-week tour.

The new season at the Donmar’s Covent Garden home runs simultaneously with the theatre’s year-long West End residency at Wyndham’s Theatre, which runs from September 2008 to August 2009, and comprises: Ivanov, starring Kenneth Branagh; Twelfth Night, with Derek Jacobi as Malvolio; Madame de Sade led by Judi Dench; and Hamlet, starring Jude Law and directed by Branagh (See News, 10 Sep 2007).

- by Terri Paddock


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