Amélie The Musical – Review – Bradford Alhambra Theatre
By Richard Mansfield, July 2019
At a time when musicals of films, tributes to bands and the celebration of genres within popular music during recent decades may feel to be becoming rather commonplace, a change in style is to be welcomed. Indeed variety is the spice of… and along comes Amélie The Musical, offering something very different in its staging and in its performance by a very accomplished cast of actor-musicians.
The film Amélie, a romantic comedy, was first screened in 2001, and is remembered affectionately for its quirkiness and for the performance of its star, Audrey Tatou.
This stage musical, with variations and small adjustments of its characters, follows the same plot line and humour but presents it basically in one setting that is amended to suit the narrative, but with a more subdued backcloth, colour and tone overall. The stars of this touring production, Audrey Brisson (Amélie) and Danny Mac (Nino) and their energetic supporting cast, provide an interpretation that beats with a verve and movement which very much suits the stage.
Essentially, the story of Amélie, set in France, starts by recounting the impact of a claustrophobic and isolated childhood lacking contact with others of her own age. This unhealthy experience results from the idiosyncrasies of a neurotic mother and a cold father lacking in any real emotional warmth who avoids physical contact with his daughter.
As a doctor, he provides her with monthly check-ups. From these he misdiagnoses the rapid heart rate she develops, at the prospect of actual physical contact with him, as a rather serious cardiac condition for which a conventional childhood, with a school education and presumably exuberant activities and excitements with contemporaries, is to be avoided. Thus Amélie is effectively banished to relative solitude and to her own imagination. Indeed, the household is so dysfunctional and stressed that, sensitive to the vibes within it, even the goldfish seeks to commit suicide by leaping out of its bowl! (There is humour in and among all this, believe me).
Mum dies in a suitably irrational accident and after living alone with her father for a few years, Amélie, leaves for Paris and works as a waitress at a cafe in Montmartre. Here she encounters a rich milieu of characters, each with a backstory and certain idiosyncrasies of their own. Amélie loses none of hers and, following the death of Princess Diana in 1997, determines that she too will become a do-gooder, interfering in the lives of others to influence events that will bring them personal happiness.
Ultimately, as the story develops, via her elaborate wheezes and plots, to bring about that happiness for others, there is love and a happy ending too for this ingenuous and comically naive young woman.
Towards the denouement, the interaction between Amélie and the invalid painter Dufayel (Johnson Willis), who lives in a nearby apartment, is crucial because, through the metaphor of the blank face of the ‘girl with a glass’ in a Renoir painting, Amélie recognises significant issues that relate to herself.
So, quite an elaborate story with much more in it than is recounted here. And there is amusing puppetry too that moves things along early on!
The creative staff (director Michael Fentiman, designer Madeleine Girling and the many others contributing to this very full production) are to be congratulated and applauded for what they and the cast have executed and achieved here. The set is brilliantly created, with simple devices used to effect rapid changes of scene, direction and tone. Indeed it is very atmospheric: the costumes, the subtleties of the décor and the lighting, the music and the fluid, sometimes sinuous movement of the players (epitomised by Kate Robson-Stuart) on what, for much of the time, is a very crowded, if not congested stage. All achieved with astonishing precision and flair.
Musically, it was difficult to keep count at times of all the instruments employed by this multi-talented cast. Along with the two piano accordions, inevitable for the French theme, there are violins, guitar, basses, two pianos, flute. It is a welcome feature that percussion is provided from the stage by percussion box and the stomping of feet and is far more subtle and much less overbearing than a regular drum kit from the orchestra pit.
Along the way a touch of the Cirque du Soleil is offered as changes of scene are made several times with Amélie being lifted up to her bedroom as she holds on to an ascending lampshade!
The first half finale brings a suitably flamboyant and enthused characterisation of Elton John to conclude references to the death of Princess Diana and her funeral. Indeed, it was good enough to close the show. Strangely though, this may have contributed to a feeling that the second half dragged a little as the various themes were drawn together towards the conclusion.
There is much to follow and enjoy in this absorbing and entertaining production – so much so that it would, in fact, be worth seeing twice!
images: Pamela Raith