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Morceaux de Choix
Published on Sunday, 19 August 2012
4

4 stars

Institut français d'Ecosse (venue website)
Cabaret
3-10, 13-17, 20-24 Aug, 6:00pm-7:10pm
Reviewed by Craig Thomson

 Family-friendly. Suitable for all ages.
 Free and unticketed. No pre-booking required.

I know there is an unspoken rule that we shouldn't mention the 'O' word, but there was another major cultural event on this island in August.  Thankfully, while the French Olympic cycling squad was left grumbling about Sir Chris Hoy's magic wheels, there can be no retaliatory complaint about the French contribution to the Fringe.  Based at the Institut Français d'Ecosse, it includes this delightfully high-concept cabaret.

Vocalist Justine Curatolo and pianist Elisa Bellanger badge Morceaux de Choix (literally 'cuts of choice', usually translated as 'tidbits') as an 'eat and watch show'.  It lives up to its billing: we are ushered in to a theatre transformed into a pop-up restaurant, and as we watch and listen to the music, we sup on complimentary wine and snack on the proffered charcuterie.

I thought it was a great idea, and an incredibly fun experience.  Even though I doubt there was anyone else in the audience less than twice my age (and I'm no spring chicken), I'd have little trouble recommending this to anyone.  I'm no music expert either, but I thought Curatolo's vocals were superb, as was the piano accompaniment, and both strongly evoked the feel of a Parisian bistro (aided, of course, by the vin de table).

The best gimmick, though, is the menu construct.  They provide a list of songs in their repertoire, arranged under headings such as 'starters', 'mains', 'dessert' and daily specials.  Each table is then invited to order what they desire, and the pair will serve it up.  As I was a table by myself, I had a great deal of control over the evening's entertainment, which I hope I used wisely; my order was as follows:

  • L'Elephant du Jardin des Plantes to start (from Manuel Rosenthal's Les Chansons du Monsieur Bleu)
  • Je te veux for main (a famous, typically French composition by Erik Satie)
  • Après un rêve for dessert (by Gabriel Maure).

The third of my failings is that, in truth, my French is not great – but just about good enough to keep up, after the helpful explanations of context and content by Curatolo and Bellanger before each song.  (For instance, I learned that Rosenthal is famous as being the only student to be taught by Ravel.)  There are a number of more famous and/or international composers in the mix too, including Ravel, Gershwin and dependable Cole Porter.  Watch out for the option of Burns poetry set to French music.

In fact, there is much more variety on offer than I could hope to describe.  The New Town location may seem far away, but in fact it is a very short stroll from the Book Festival at Charlotte Square, and within easy striking distance of the Assembly Rooms hub on George Street.  Book a table and enjoy these musical samples.

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