By Fiona Leckerman
Watching Frances Ruffelle perform without her singing On My Own, the song that launched her career as a musical theatre actress and singer would have been a travesty, so when she mounts the piano in The Crazy Coqs to belt out a rousing new rendition of her famous song, the audience gives her an appreciative cheer and sumptuous applause, her voice is as beautiful as it was and her presence as a performer as captivating.
Ruffelle is playing Brasserie Zedel’s underground club to mark the release of her latest album I Say Yeh-Yeh, a record that has been produced by the fabulously effervescent Jazz singer Gywneth Herbert, who joins her on the intimate stage more than once.
The songs featured tell the story of heartbreak, a reflection of Ruffelle’s personal experience which together with Herbert she has crafted in to a stylised collection that seamlessly flows through the stages of lost love.
The French theme adds to the concept with songs sung both in French and English. Ruffelle eschews the traditional cabaret style synonymous with performances at The Crazy Coqs in favour of a more theatrical performance.
She makes her entrance from the audience – like a character in her own play – accompanied by piano, guitar, double bass, drums and various other instruments. A blackboard hangs centre stage, which she surreptitiously uses chalk to write on or erase songs.
Her floor length frock coat is seductively removed to reveal a lingerie inspired black dress, she oozes a mix of Bardot femininity and fragility.
Leaving the stage to duet Paris Summer with a brooding Rowan John, a single spot highlighting them as they stand by the bar, emphasises the tension between a couple.
Her interludes are piqued with poetry, a retelling of anguish that evokes rawness which is both believable and entertaining.
A Quoi Ca Sert (take the Mercedes Benz) is a perfect example of this as is Bang Bang and the glorious re working of I Say Yeh-Yeh.
Ruffelle also includes No Regrets, a brilliant nod to her love of Piaf. Often confused as French – Ruffelle is a Londoner, daughter of Sylvia Young and mother of Eliza Doolittle – she made the album out of her passion for the French music that has enriched her creative life, making her performance at The Crazy Coqs a melancholy atmospheric fête.
Her residency continues at Crazy Coqs in London until Saturday, October 17.