Saturday, 8 November 2008

Nicolas Canteloup's 2ème Couche - a French impersonator on tour

Have you ever had that feeling that perhaps you're from another planet? You know, when all around you say and believe one thing and all your senses - physical and emotional - tell you that can't be the case.

Such was the sensation on Friday night for some (oh all right then - at least one, although there was a couple in front of me who from all appearances seemed to be on the same wavelength) at one of the last dates of Nicolas Canteloup's show at Olympia in Paris.

Canteloup is probably this country's most talented impersonator, although he has recently come in for some mighty competition from Liane Foly. Earlier this year she added another string to her entertainment bow, by launching her own one woman show based entirely on singing her way through a medley of voices from the French music scene - past and present.

But back to Canteloup. He really is the man of many voices, and he has a proverbially rapier wit to boot.

This guy is immensely popular.

Every morning he can be heard on national radio as he spends around 10 minutes racing through news and current events in France and abroad in a myriad of spot-on imitations.

Of course his (and probably everyone else's) favourites and best received are the French president, Nicolas Sarkozy and his wife Carla - yes he does both. Ségolène Royal (the Socialist party candidate from last year's presidential election) and her former partner, François Hollande, who's about to stand down as leader of the Socialist party, are high on his repertoire, He does a cruelly more than dumb blonde take on a former Miss France and Miss Europe, Alexandra Rosenfeld, a caterwauling French-Canadian version of Mylène Farmer - and many, many more.

You can see a list here - although it's far from being complete.

During the US election campaign, he even added Barack Obama and John McCain to his collection of voices.

The 10 minutes or so every morning are hilarious, and often much more informative and incisive than the real news that follows shortly afterwards.

So it was with all that in mind that I had managed to buy some much sought-after tickets for one of the last performances of his "2ème Couche" (Second coat) at that grand old music hall in Paris, Olympia.

Even as I entered the hallowed foyer of the world famous building from the late 19th century (seriously in need of a spruce up by the way) there were dozens of people outside asking if there were any spare tickets available.

And this was Canteloup's second time around at Olympia (he was there for two weeks in the spring) on a tour that got underway in October 2007 and will continue making its way around the country until June 2009.

After a warm-up act (some wannabe jazzy-woman, who crooned her way through a number of original songs whose English lyrics were a string of meaningless clichés) Canteloup finally came on to the stage - almost one hour after we had sat down, and this is the bit where I began to feel like an alien.

In spite of all my expectations, mainly from the simple enjoyment of listening to him every morning, I was bored. Even though the impersonations were as expected, excellent, the sketches were for the most part overlong and tedious.

Sure I could be forgiven for perhaps not "getting" some of the cultural references, I'm not French after all. But I did, and what's more, for the main part, I didn't find them at all funny.

There seemed to be no flowing script that meant one character segued into another. Instead we were treated to some rather weak lampooning of admittedly silly television programmes, presented by Canteloup's caricatures of the hosts. An overlong satire on the Olympics - actually more the Paralympics was quite bluntly, tasteless and it just never seemed to have an end - although thankfully at some point it did.

The show progressed, my yawns continued, and my tummy rumbled (I hadn't managed to grab something to eat beforehand).

Most of the rest of the audience (apart from that couple in front of me) seemed to be lapping it up. I was clearly in from Planet Zog for the evening, and kept checking my watch.

Only towards the end did the show really gather pace, as within the space of a quarter of an hour (the "ad-lib" encore) he rattled through politicians and singers at breakneck speed.

Finally the ushers moved into place at the exits, the lighting technicians orchestrated their usual circus seal approval from the audience, Canteloup bid farewell and I was released into the Parisian night.

My advice - if you want to listen to some truly excellent impersonations of famous French people and you're in France, tune into Europe 1 on the radio every morning at around 8.40am. Nicolas Canteloup is in his element, and he's very, very funny.

As for his show. Well as you can probably tell, it's not really something I would recommend - go and see Liane Foly instead.

Bon weekend.

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