Tour ends in London, November 29 – February 1
Reviewed for Writebase: https://writebase.co.uk/
‘Life is a minestrone’, the song says, as indeed is Amélie’s: rich and full of variety. But something of a mishmash. Just like this musical, much of which I found difficult to follow, the dialogue being, naturellement, in a heavy French accent (if nearer Welsh occasionally, for some strange reason). It was
particularly a shame with the lyrics, because the songs, beautifully done, are so catchy, and clever, I think… Well, I know, with, for example, When the booth goes bright and The girl with the glass, while Goodbye, Amélie is delicately balanced by The late Nino Quincampoix.
The lavish setting is a marvel to behold, the café (been there; ah oui, I’ve done that), the gorgeous Art Deco Metro sign looming overhead, encasing a round skylight with Amélie’s cosy atelier behind, to which she is hoisted up, à la Mary Poppins, via lampshade rather than umbrella; may seem like a costcutting exercise but riskier after all. The large square box at the back metamorphoses from confessional into photo booth, while one of the two pianos on stage serves as a bar and a market stall. The stage is also filled with all kinds of instruments as the characters mill about, a collection of talented players, in both senses of the word. Interestingly, the costumes initially make you think, or me at any rate, post war, but largely attractive with no apparent nods to 70s or 90s. Many other inventive touches include the quirky choreography and the use of marionettes; too sophisticated to be called puppets, and uncannily lifelike, even if one of them is a garden gnome.
I had great hopes of the second half because the first came to an absolutely fabulous finale/pastiche in which our heroine imagines her demise and consequent celebration of her life. However, the whole thing was quite incomprehensible at times, the stage and action so cluttered and busy, the plot so convoluted, you found yourself racking your brains trying to remember the film, and that came out nearly 20 years ago.
Basically, Amélie, daughter of what are described as an iceberg and a neurotic, a lonely, imaginative girl, is inspired by Princess Diana to throw herself into helping to make other people happy, and finds happiness herself, eventually. Not surprisingly, she is a curious little thing but extraordinarily appealing, in a tremendous performance from Audrey Brisson, who fills Audrey Tautou’s shoes, and runs with them. She meets her match in the attractive, athletic Nino (Danny Mac), although, if as singular a personality, he seems even odder: obsession and job.
N’importe, it’s a heartwarming, picaresque fairytale as Amélie sets out on her quest. Johnson Willson is memorable as her wise old artist neighbour, Dufayel, a fragile recluse, in complete contrast to grumpy greengrocer, Collignon (yes, nearly mixed the two of them up). However, again, it’s hard to differentiate between some of the cast; Oliver Grant is described as the Mysterious Man, and not the only one; still no idea who played her parents. But Caolan McCarthy (Hipolito) does stand out as the guest star, shall we say, in the scene-stealing performance which brings the first act to a resounding close.
Nevertheless, 4 * – well, don’t mind admitting I could be wrong. Or unfortunate, in being unable to make it all out. That’s the thing about something magical, which is how most people would sum up this show, and it did receive a rapturous reception. So I shall leave the final word to my companion: it’s a musical for people who don’t like musicals.