Erik Satie show at Oxford’s SJE Arts is a night of real French fancies

David Bamber

Nicola Lisle speaks to David Bamber about his forthcoming performance for Erik Satie: Memoirs of a Pear-Shaped Life

HIS music has been used to advertise everything from chocolate and cider to cars and mobile phones, but to many people the composer Erik Satie is a bit of a mystery.

Now the work of the eccentric Frenchman is to feature in a night of music celebrating the 150th anniversary of his birth.

A play called Erik Satie: Memoirs of a Pear-Shaped Life is coming to St John the Evangelist Church, in Iffley Road, Oxford, on Friday, featuring the talents of Midsomer Murders actor David Bamber and acclaimed pianist Anne Lovett.

The piece showcases Satie’s piano repertoire and its legacy, while throwing the spotlight on his rather sad, chaotic and unpredictable life through his letters, diaries and other writings.

It builds a picture of a complicated genius, who was a star of Paris’s Montmartre cabaret scene and friends with Picasso and the composers Debussy and Ravel, but who lived a reclusive life in a cluttered suburban apartment into which he squeezed two grand pianos, stacked one on top of the other. The top one he used for storage.

For Mr Bamber – whose television credits also include Rome, Pride and Prejudice and Silent Witness – the Satie play is refreshingly different.

“This is lovely to do because it is unlike what I do a lot of the time and I love being onstage,” he said during a break in filming.

“I first did it in Cheltenham because somebody was ill, and it was very successful. And it was such a joy. It was a great evening, although we didn’t have long to put it on so it was quite pressurised.

“It’s a great memory and I’m really glad I did it, so I’m happy to do it again. I love it.

“I love French music, and the late 19th and early 20th century French music is astonishing. I didn’t know a lot about Satie, so I read quite a bit about him. He was such a fascinating person and so eccentric, and had so many interests. He’s also very loveable, I think. The play, brief as it is, gets a lot of that over, hopefully in an amusing way. And the music is absolutely brilliant.”

The play features passages from some of Satie’s best-known piano works, including Gymnopédies – his most famous work, which has appeared on so many films, TV shows and adverts.

French composer Anne Lovett is the star pianist.

“Anne’s wonderful, I have to say,” said Mr Bamber. “She’s an amazing pianist.”

The play runs for 70 minutes, with no interval, and audience members will be able to take drinks into the auditorium to help create an immersive experience.

“It really is a good evening and the music is just beautiful,” he adds. “Even people who don’t know anything about Satie will be pleasantly surprised and entertained, I think. I always assume in Oxford people are going to know everything,” he adds with a laugh, “but I don’t think that’s probably the case!”

Written by Nicola Lisle, Oxford Times. 10/02/18