Tuesday 31st December 2019 at The Other Palace, London.
Let me start by admitting that I didn’t see Amélie the movie (I know…but that rock I was living under was cosy). The very best thing about Amélie The Musical however, is the way in which this fantastic cast deliver Michael Fentiman’s gorgeously whimsical staging of Craig Lucas’ book. There’s a well established romanticism surrounding any stories set in France and from start to finish this is a visual delight full of charm which rests very much on the idyllic haze of a tale ‘en français’ – or as close as. Daniel Messé’s music is more often than not centre stage, gently pushing the narrative forward with lyrics both quirky and beautifully philosophical; this is a musical wholly elevated by its music thanks to Nathan Tysen and Messé’s joint efforts (Musical Director: Samuel Wilson).
The narrative itself is endearing and entertaining but it’s not the greatest victory of this production. It’s quite loose and a little on the vague side in places, with central focuses transpiring to be only tangents within the bigger picture. But at its core is the story of a young woman who is a little odd and more than a little insular. We meet her as a child – played by Dik Downey’s adorable Young Amélie puppet (a real high point in terms of visual and overall narrative charm) – who is unwittingly isolated and sculpted into an individual who struggles to make connections. She’s taken out of reach of the world outside and confined to a life learning at the kitchen table.
The end result is a woman who feels deeply, dreams constantly and retreats into her own ethereal world when the real one gets too much – and particularly when a handsome stranger with his own fascinating quirks arrives on the scene. Interesting (and entertaining) is that while by its very nature Amélie feels wholesome and child-friendly, there are some indulgently grown up moments to surprise and amuse along the way; Amélie may carry with her an unshakeable sense of childish inexperience, but she’s very much a woman who finds playful potential and mischief in fragments of comedy of the bedroom variety.
That said, the featured romance pleases in that it doesn’t entertain the clichés and the eye roll inducing moments of many a musical connection. There are no charged snatch-and-snog climaxes, nor are there fragmented ballads with lingering looks and garbled dialogue interjections. Instead there are witty and charming twists on those elements which bring us right back over to the more endearingly pure elements of Amélie’s story as we see her develop in response to the world she is discovering belatedly.
On stage, the abstract layer of Amélie’s escapism gives ample opportunity for stylish staging of surreal moments and it’s a production which offers a whole different tone and style compared to the vast majority of musical shows making the rounds right now. Time and place are malleable rather than definitive and Madeleine Girling’s designs are note perfect, completely in sync with characters and narrative threads. She offers simple, beautiful visuals brought about through dexterous design concepts.
Almost everything is multi-functional with a few final touches added along the way – it’s gorgeous set design and every nook and cranny promises surprises and shifts in perspective, ultimately framing the sense of limitless imagination surrounding the self-marginalising Amélie. Motion is also a constant influence in this tale across performance and design and Movement Director Tom Jackson Greaves finds dance and melodious movement in almost every scene. It’s enchanting to see the display of synchronised movement giving scenes just that one additional layer of charm and flair which sends a production to greater heights.
Audrey Brisson is superb in the title role. Funny, sharp, vulnerable, rebellious, mischievous, fearless and deeply self-conscious; the role is a diverse one and anyone who can conquer the combined sense of detachment and warmly motivated meddling of Amélie deserves the generous applause Brisson enjoys at curtain call. And what a voice too- at times hauntingly beautiful and at all times a highlight.
Alongside a perfectly cast Chris Jared as the romantic counterpart Nino (with plenty of charisma and fantastic vocals of his own to triumph with), Brisson is surrounded on all sides by musical and comic talent. The opening scenes establish the full power of the ensemble both instrumentally and vocally, and that impressive presence remains in force throughout, with music best delivered when all voices gloriously combine as chorus or Brisson’s voice soars solo.
Stand outs in the ensemble include Kate Robson-Stuart’s formidable presence as Suzanne, the romantically inclined older woman with a dramatic past – as well as the most expressive musician you’ll find on stage. Sophie Crawford’s Gina is a flag-flier for the unimpressed ex-lover and Faoileann Cunningham offers the classic combination of hypochondriac and ignored would-be lover. Samuel Morgan-Grahame provides some excellent comic moments with a wry humour while Caolan McCarthy offers some of the best vocals to be found in this production.
See Amélie for a world of wonderfully charismatic storytelling and a quirky, charming love story. See it for its brilliant musicians and for its lyrical beauty both in script and song. If not for that, see it for its visual beauty and its uniqueness on the modern musical theatre scene.
Amélie plays The Other Palace until February 1st 2020 and you can find tickets here.