Bijou is a cabaret of ribald tales, French and German songs and the unraveling of a life story starring actor Chrissie Shaw and piano man Alan Hicks. Touring in 2018, Bijou is bringing turn of the century Paris to the Hotel du Palais Royale.
In a Parisian café bar in 1932 we meet Bijou. She is one of the night people, captured in Brassai’s revealing photographs of depression-era Paris. Frayed at the edges, they recall the glory days of the Belle Epoque, the mad excitement of the 1920s, as they drink, sing and scratch for survival while the world moves inexorably towards another world war.
Playing for two dinner-shows, Friday 12th and Saturday 13th October in the Grand Ballroom at the Palais Royale, Katoomba. The stunning venue is designed in the style of 18tth century Rocaille, or French Rococo, feauring mouldings and gold-framed mirrors.
Bijou, once queen of the Demi-Monde roves from bar to bar, holding mad court in her tattered finery, draped in fake jewellery. Over many glasses of wine, she reads palms, tells and sells saucy stories, sings snatches of songs and relives the adventures of her long-lost youth. But tonight she starts to unravel. Past, present, truth and lies collide in a bizarre confusion of tragi-comedy, cabaret and bawdy revelations. The bar pianist plays Satie, Weill, Hollander, Bruant and more, triggering memories of Bijou’s haphazard past.
This rich cabaret-style entertainment, paints a picture of a colourful life, with music from operetta, romance, political anthems, nursery rhymes, and dance from the waltz and Charleston to exotic Eastern interpretation.
Bijou is an original work from Canberra-based performing artist, writer and producer Chrissie Shaw. Since 1991, Chrissie has produced seven original plays, in collaboration with other producers and artists, all initially funded by artsACT (the ACT Government’s arts funding program). They include About Face, Footprints on the Wind, Sweeter Fern – That’s Red!, Drumming on Water, The Keeper, Gran’s Bag and Flotsam and Jetsam.
In Bijou, Chrissie collaborates with a whole host of local and national talent including Susan Pilbeam in the director's chair, pianist Alan Hicks, designers Gillian Schwab, Imogen Keen and Victoria Worley, with Liz Lea as choreographer. Together they have fashioned a cabaret-style romp through the colourful life and times of Bijou.
Alan Hicks is one of Australia's foremost vocal coaches and accompanists. An innovative music educator, he is currently Vocal and Italian Coach in the Opera School at the NSW Conservatorium of Music. Alan is a graduate of the Newcastle Conservatorium of Music and of the Royal Northern College of Music, Manchester, UK.
Susan Pilbeam has worked extensively in the development of new works, in Australia and overseas. In Melbourne she has premiered works at La Mama, Theatreworks, Gasworks, The Storeroom and Chapel off Chapel. She has also undertaken post-graduate research in Education and Performing Arts, developing curricula and lecturing at the Victorian College of the Arts, University of Ballarat Arts Academy and Victoria University. Recent touring works include The Mark Twain You Don’t Know and Ada Cambridge.
Information and Tickets www.admit1.com.au/bijou or 0418241218
Bijou was developed through The Street Theatre’s Hive and Made In Canberra programs. Bijou’s premiere season was supported by the ACT Government’s Arts Funding program.
Review: Bijou, a cabaret of secrets and seduction
The Bar Du Depot is the setting for Bijou – A Cabaret of Secrets & Seduction. The moment you step through its portal from the friendly bar of the Depot Theatre Marrickville, you are transported to the Paris of the 1930’s, complete with cabaret style, dusky candle lit bistro tables and a piano man playing an ancient Beale upright. It truly feels authentic… As Chrissie Shaw steps into the spotlight at the Bar Du Depot, you get the feeling that she has lived it. ??Alan Hicks, who stars alongside Bijou as her pianist, seems right at home….and cleverly conveys the world-weariness of Depression era Paris. It’s a prelude of things to come and it’s evident right from the start that Hicks is a master craftsman of his instrument. You want to hear more and he does not disappoint…the old lady Bijou is a scene stealer. Chrissie Shaw masterfully engages the audience using direct contact that is both enjoyable and skillful enough to avoid embarrassment as she begins to weave her tale. She looks the part, the attention to detail by costume designer Victoria Worley in delivering a living portrait of this character is outstanding, and her unexpected rendition of a Charleston catapults the audience back into the roaring 20’s and is a great example of Shaw’s versatility as a performer…In writing and performing it, Shaw has combined myth with history and comes up trumps. Like so many others, you will fall in love with Madame Bijou.
Chrissie Shaw’s script is charming, with surprising revelations that are guaranteed to delight… As performer, Shaw’s vocal abilities are her greatest asset. Interpretations of yesteryear songs are consistently enchanting, and the sharp focus she maintains in her one-woman show format is thoroughly impressive. Alan Hicks is on the piano providing accompaniment, with tremendous style and effortless flair. His voice and humour make only brief appearances, but they are very memorable indeed.
SUZY GOES SEE
Chrissie Shaw’s Bijou is a faded character from early twentieth century Paris. She was a sought after beauty, a collector of jewelry, a singer, a dancer, a great hostess and a seedy operator when times were hard….Her dramatic entrance in a glorious costume tells the audience we are in the presence of a great performer… a hilarious striptease routine, her steamy encounters, her performance art and dancing… a lot of her humour comes from the unexpectedness of her behaviour when dancing or being simultaneously coquettish and overtly sexual. Chrissie is accompanied on piano by the versatile Alan Hicks. His singing captures the era … a cabaret-style romp that places us in an old bar in Paris.
SYDNEY ARTS GUIDE
Shaw's unbridled emotion and infectious charm shines through, lending life and drama to scenes that in other hands could be quite inconsequential. The intimacy she fosters with lingering touches on forearms and occasionally risque audience participation transforms an overblown account into an invested emotional experience. Throughout, Alan Hicks' beautiful, intricate music as the long-suffering salon pianist carries the audience along inexorably on a journey through time and space that is always entrancing, often funny, and never dull.
This is a one-woman tour de force through time, beginning in the 1930s and weaving back and forth through the decades, through World War One and the Franco-Prussian War, and the days of decadence and hedonism before and after each conflict. Part fact and part imagined history, Bijou’s stories spill forth as she caresses her jewellery, memories unfolding as to how she acquired particular pieces. Songs flow naturally, sometimes unleashing other memories, erotic, tragic or funny.
The audience is drawn further and further into her story, and the clever setting of the theatre encourages that intimacy. Rather than rows of seats, the theatre has become a Parisian café, with tables scattered around the room. This allows Bijou to move about freely, reading palms and begging for coins, all the while exhorting everyone to have another drink.
Music and song are characters in their own right, and Bijou is accompanied by a classical pianist (Alan Hicks) she mocks for being ‘from the Conservatoire’, and taunts him into abandoning his high-brow melodies for flirty tunes she can sing to. The songs reflect the eras of her life, from Charleston and tango numbers in the 20s to dance hall numbers from the 1890s. The most moving piece is Bijou playing the piano herself, as a small child, practising the traditional French melody that we know as Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.
This is an extraordinary performance by Chrissie Shaw, a veteran of the stage for more than 30 years. She brings both despair and joy as well as great charm to this bawdy and lusty lady, who is the ultimate in shabby chic. In her 60s herself, Chrissie has learnt to dance for the role, training her muscles to take her through the paces of the Charleston and other period dances.
Alan Hicks is a wonderful accompaniment on the piano, playing softly as the audience takes their seats and welcoming us so completely into this other world that it comes as a surprise when Bijou charges through the front door. He is a gentle presence throughout, in the final moments tenderly wrapping a coat around her shoulders.
Heather Wallace, hercanberra.com.au, September 02, 2013
It was quite a privilege to watch someone at Shaw’s age embody past versions of (Bijou’s) character with such authenticity and precision, whether it be enfant, mademoiselle or madame. This was a woman who had lived multiple lives, constantly reinventing herself to survive in a man’s world, with each recreation creating another fascinating layer that is testament to the great depth of Shaw’s writing ability and character development.
With often quite saucy, even erotic themes, Shaw as Bijou also pulled off a level of sensual exploration much more grounded and assured than I have seen in any younger performers. Stripping down to a lavish corset and pantaloons (by designer Victoria Worley), she seemingly delighted in challenging people on the widely held belief that maturity and sexuality is an oxymoron.
Deborah Hawke, Barefoot Review, August 2013
Alan Hicks is superb as the long-suffering bar-pianist, providing a strong supportive presence, sensitive piano accompaniments and even gentle vocal harmonies. All are essential contributions to a riveting tour de force performance by Chrissie Shaw in this gloriously entertaining, beautifully realised production.
Bill Stephens, City News, August 2013
Dark tale of high life and tragedy a cabaret gem
Canberra Times, Date August 31, 2013
Reviewer: Alanna Maclean
Entertainment Blue Mountains
Enertainment Blue Mountains has been producing and presenting theatre, live entertainment and childrens' shows throughout the Blue Mountains region, including tours to Sydney and regional NSW, since 2012.