Monday, March 21, 2016

BIJOU - A Cabaret of Secrets and Seduction.

Written and performed by Chrissie Shaw
"Madam Bijou in the Bar de la Lune"
Photo: George Brassai
Pianist – Alan Hicks,
The Famous Spiegeltent – Civic Square – Canberra
8th March 2016

Reviewed by Bill Stephens

Inspired by a photograph called “Madam Bijou in the Bar de la Lune” which was taken in 1932 by George Brassai for his book “Paris de Nuit”, veteran Canberra entertainer, Chrissie Shaw has devised an exquisite and intriguing cabaret.

Little is known about the real Madam Bijou, so Shaw has imagined an exuberant life for her. As the show begins Bijou is discovered, seated at her favourite table. She’s wearing faded finery and her fingers are laden with jewels...real or fake?....the audience can only wonder.

Each jewel is the catalyst for sparking a new memory in Bijou of some person or encounter earlier in her life. The memories are either delightful or distressing, but she shares each without inhibition or embellishment, as she wanders among her audience offering to read palms, or collecting tips and stray glasses of wine.

Chrissie Shaw as Madam Bijou

Shaw is a master storyteller with the ability to immediately capture the curiosity of her audience with a meaningful glance, a pregnant pause, a quick, mysterious smile. Within minutes she has the audience captivated with stories of her lovers, hanging on her every word as she talks of the young fortune hunter who deserts her, the bishop who seduces her, and the sheik.  Are these stories real or are they simply a figment of Bijou’s imagination? Who would know?  

Her moods change from beguiling to accusing, from wicked to innocent in a flash. She’s equally compelling as a world-weary old woman; a 12 year-old girl about to receive her first holy communion; or a madam performing an “interpretive dance” for an appreciative client.
Punctuating and embellishing Bijou’s stories are carefully chosen songs by composers of the era, Satie, Debussy, Poulenc , Milhaud and others, but it is Brecht’s “Ballad of Sexual  Obsession” which most accurately suggests the key to Bijou’s current plight. Shaw sings them all charmingly in either French or English as appropriate, in a clear voice dripping with character, superbly accompanied on piano Allan Hicks. Hicks doubles as Bijou’s friend, the bar pianist, sometimes joining Bijou in song, providing gentle vocal harmonies.

The other star on this occasion was the Famous Spiegeltent, replete with its own faded finery, providing the perfect environment for this beautifully conceived and strangely affecting little show. Its many wooden-framed mirrors mischievously and unexpectedly revealing Bijou's

thinly-veiled vulnerability.

Melbourne readers will have the opportunity to see “Bijou – A Cabaret of Secrets and Seduction” when it’s performed at The La Mama Courthouse theatre from June 15th – 19th.
This review also appears in Australian Arts Review..