Watermill Theatre - Amélie
11th April to 18th May 2019
Review from Newbury Theatre.
What do we want when Brexit woes are dividing the country? A feel-good musical! When do we want it? Now! So, just in time, the Watermill brings us Amélie, derived from the Oscar-nominated film and produced on Broadway in 2017.
Born in 1975 to a neurotic mum and a rather weird obsessive father, Amélie's early childhood days are played out by a cleverly designed and operated doll puppet. After her mother dies in an accident, her father turns in on himself more, building a shrine to his wife containing a garden gnome holding her ashes.
Fast forward to 1997 and Amélie is a shy young woman, living on her own and working as a waitress in a Paris café. After hearing of Princess Di's death, she has a Damascene moment leading to “an urge to help all mankind”. After a series of on-off encounters with her potential boyfriend Nino, we are led to a hopeful if not actually happy ending.
Audrey Brisson is the gamine Amélie, a convincing performance with a strong singing voice. Chris Jared is a good match for her as Nino; two diffident people who need a bit of help to get together.
Faoileann Cunningham was impressive as the hypochondriac Georgette, finally and noisily getting her plumbing sorted out by the taciturn Joseph (Samuel Morgan-Grahame). Caolan McCarthy was excellent on the piano and with a clear singing voice as Hippolito and again as Elton John with wings.
And you get some things you won't see in your average musical: the gnome growing to giant size and coming to life; the greengrocer attacked by huge figs. Although I think these may have been in Amélie's dream.
Madeline Girling's ingenious set made full use of the Watermill's small stage with a piano concealing many other goodies, a photo-booth/telephone-box/platform and a hobbit-sized bedroom behind a giant clock with a Mary Poppins style lift to get up to it.
With music and lyrics by Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen this was a full-blown musical: lots of songs and not much dialogue in between. The songs were gentle rather than strident, and not particularly memorable.
Director Michael Fentiman gave us the well-known Watermill actor/musician treatment of a heart-warming musical extolling the virtues of looking out for others rather than putting yourself first all the time.
Review from The Guardian.
Sepia-toned surrealism that's high on imagination
The arrival of the kind-hearted and introverted Parisian on the UK stage is a magical and emotional triumph of adaptation
The formidable success of Amélie the film looms large over Amélie the Musical, according to the latter's director, Michael Fentiman. "Any stage production is in some respects competing with memories of the film," he says.
This show is in fact competing with the winning French whimsy of the 2001 original at two removes: Craig Lucas, Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen's adaptation has already been staged in the US and has now been significantly reworked for its UK premiere.
Audrey Brisson plays Amélie, the unloved child who grows up to be a kind-hearted introvert and waitress, wandering around Paris and bringing joy to people's lives. The characters around her double as folksy French musicians who look like bohemians and buskers with their flutes, accordions, violins and double basses.
The stage is drenched in sepia light to conjure both a faded Gallic romance and an intimate sense of cabaret with two beaten-up pianos on either side and, occasionally, a delicious edge of bawdiness to the book and lyrics. The mezzanine stage never changes its scenery but rearranges to switch from the bar to Amélie's bedroom and the outside world – the train station and photobooth at which she spots Nino (Chris Jared), who becomes the distant object of her romantic desires. A revolving cubicle becomes a portal to other people's homes and lives.
There is surreal imagination to it all: the young, unhappy Amélie – caught between cold, uncommunicative parents – is played by a puppet, and while this is charmingly theatrical, we feel distanced from Amélie's inner trauma as a result.
The first half of the show is high on imagination but low on emotional connection. Messé's musical score is strong but initially drowns out the book. Brisson has a big, beautiful voice that is full of feeling but in every other respect she is more a function of the plot than its centre; her kind interventions into other people's lives reveal their stories rather than her own. Physically confident and a harder-edged character than Audrey Tautou's doe-eyed original, there is a circus quality to her performance.
It takes a while for the various elements to come together, but it is simply spectacular when they do. By the second half, the pace slows and the mix of comedy, surrealism and spectacle cohere: the book is more prominent, the score and lyrics are affecting, the inner life of Amélie is spotlit and the emotional drama is raised to a crescendo when we reach Amélie and Nino's first kiss. There are some stupendously imaginative scenes too, infused with warmth, darkness and humour in equal parts, such as Amélie's imagining of her own funeral prompted by the breaking news of Princess Diana's death.
The production corrects all of its earlier imperfections – Brisson and Jared's romance is weighted with emotional resonance. The musicians perform with a dynamism, virtuosity and dazzlingly unified oneness. There are nods to iconic scenes in the film that are said in passing rather than acted out.
It is, by the end, a triumph of adaptation, setting itself apart from the film to become its very own magical thing.
Review from The Observer.
A rocking realisation of the film
Last week’s fire at Notre Dame prompted various reflections on French identity. Although a more ephemeral entity, the 2001 film Amélie raised questions about the same theme: was its faux-nostalgic, CGI-ed presentation of 1990s Paris an airbrushing of the city’s modern, multicultural identity, or a valid expression of an aspect of “Frenchness”? This new musical adaptation shares this same dichotomy.
The story of the lonely girl who intervenes in the lives of others so as to spread happiness where there was sorrow has a fairytale quality that does not need a specific site. Yet the musical’s book, by Craig Lucas, follows the film in making references to the death of Princess Diana, thereby locating the action firmly in a real time and place (rather than a fictional Paris equivalent). The advantage of this is that it provides a pretext for a rocking, Elton John take-off pre-interval number (one of Daniel Messé’s many lively and subtle pastiche compositions). Mostly, though, the counterpoint between the sweet confection of the story and the realities of Paris in the 1990s jars – and not in a Brechtian way. It’s like piling crème Chantilly on to steak tartare.
This is a great shame because, in other respects, the production is much better than the film – less cloying, more fun. A brilliant ensemble of actor-musicians simultaneously present and enact the story. Under Michael Fentiman’s direction, set against Madeleine Girling’s design, wonderful ingenuities of movement and props zoom scenes and perspectives (the term “piano roll”, here, takes on a literal reality). As Amélie, Audrey Brisson offers a rare performance combining emotional nuance and heightened physicality. Overall, though, for me, the whimsicalisation of Paris strikes a fatal false note – stars, therefore, for the production rather than the material.
Review from The Times.
As wistful and winsome as its quirky heroine — this is a sweet treat to savour
Ah, Amélie, si charmante with her big eyes and chic brunette bob, setting the lives of lonely Parisians to rights, eating raspberries off her fingertips, tapping her crème brûlée crust with a gleaming silver spoon. If the memory of all that, so prettily presented in Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s popular 2001 film, makes your heart go boum, then you will swoon at this musical.
Presented on Broadway in 2017 and reworked for this UK premiere, it embraces those familiar images, conjuring Jeunet’s romantic fantasy with delicacy and enormous affection. It’s as wistful and winsome as its quirky heroine — a spun-sugar confection that runs a very real risk of giving you toothache. The ambling plot, faithfully recreated in Craig Lucas’s book, initially struggles to gain traction, and although Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé’s songs are lovely, they sometimes seem like decorative icing on an elaborate but insubstantial cake.
Yet Michael Fentiman’s production is so delicious, so crammed with sly winks and witticisms, and so captivatingly performed that we surrender to its temptations. And Audrey Brisson in the title role not only pungently recalls Audrey Tautou’s portrayal on screen, but improves upon it, adding a self-aware edge that makes the gamine dreamer all the easier to love.
The cast of actor-musicians bustle and glide through a tourist’s-eye Paris beautifully designed by Madeleine Girling. It’s a shameless celebration of Gallic cliche: the art nouveau Metro, the accordionist, the smoky café where Amélie waits tables. When she ascends to her apartment, she reaches above her head to grasp the flex of a fringed lamp, which magically whisks her up to an eyrie behind a clock face. Her childhood, with emotionally dysfunctional parents who taught her to be wary of the world, features adroit puppetry to represent the bewildered little girl and the pet fish that was her only friend. Figs on the stall of an ill-tempered greengrocer come to monstrous life; her father’s garden gnome breaks into a jaunty tune.
The songs — rippling waltzes, a smidgeon of bossa nova — are gently reflective rather than stirring (aptly enough, given the story’s themes of repression and slumbering potential). A number in which, struck by Princess Diana’s send-off, Amélie imagines her own funeral complete with Elton John, is an overindulgence, although Caolan McCarthy, in spangled glasses and angelic feathers, delivers a superb impersonation of the MOR rocker.
Otherwise, this is gorgeous; when Brisson’s adorable Amélie finally meets her man, Chris Jared’s appealing Nino, it’s a quiet moment of piercingly intense intimacy. Yes, the show is dangerously sweet; but served up with such elegance and skill, it’s irresistible.
Review from the Newbury Weekly News.
Sheer delight in Amélie
Amélie The Musical, at The Watermill, Bagnor, until May 18
The Watermill’s production of Amélie is a sheer joy.
This whimsical story of love and kindness by Craig Lucas, Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen receives its UK premiere at The Watermill before embarking on an extensive tour.
Its stellar cast are all highly-accomplished actor/musicians, superb storytellers and sing with a passion, bringing Barnaby Race's vibrant new score delightfully to life.
Audrey Brisson is simply outstanding as Amélie. She has such talent and a beautiful singing voice, with an expressive innocence and fragility that endears her to the audience.
As a young girl, Amélie suffered from a heart condition and is cocooned by her doctor father Raphael (Jez Unwin) and her neurotic mother (Rachel Dawson), who educate her at home.
She feels isolated, seeking solace with her goldfish, who she speaks to, but her parents force her to release it into the River Seine.
On a trip to Notre Dame, her mother is tragically killed. Raphael is devastated, has her ashes placed in a garden gnome and creates a shrine for his wife – there is much humour in the musical.
Amélie leaves home to start a new life as a waitress in Montmartre and her life is about to change forever.
Here she meets her fellow workers, the cafe owner Suzanne (Kate Robson-Stuart), who was also a circus performer, the hypochondriac Georgette (Faoileann Cunningham) and Gina (Sioned Saunders), as well as the streetwise blind beggar (Josh Sneesby).
It's a happy place, with a stream of regular customers, including Gina's ex-boyfriend Joseph (Samuel Morgan-Grahame) and the poet Hippolito (Caolan McCarthy).
On the night of the death of Princess Diana, Amelie discovers a metal box containing a boy's treasures and sets out on a quest to reunite it with the owner, helped by elderly, frail painter (Johnson Willis).
She falls in love with Nino (Chris Jared), who works in a Pigalle sex shop and collects discarded photos from Metro station photo booths.
But who is the mysterious man (Oliver Grant) who visits the booths? Amélie's imagination takes flight.
She dreams of her funeral in the style of Diana's and the first act ends with a show-stopping number with Caolan McCarthy as Elton John, who brilliantly performs a gospel song with the whole cast.
Madeleine Girling's multi-level set design recreates the ambience of Paris inventively and is full of fascinating surprises, complemented by atmospheric lighting by Elliot Griggs, with sound from Tom Marshall.
There is so much to enjoy in this magical production, imaginatively directed with élan by Michael Fentiman.
Amélie is an absolute triumph – fight for a ticket!
There are reviews from The Spy in the Stalls ("a fast-moving, feel-good and heartily recommended show" - ★★★★★), The Stage ("delightful, weird, and warm-hearted" - ★★★★), Broadway World ("quirky and sweet... a skilled and sensitive production" - ★★★★), the Henley Standard ("an extraordinary production that is fast-moving, quirky, at times very funny, and full of French atmosphere"; View from the Cheap Seat ("exactly how a small scale musical should be done... a magical show... I couldn’t fault it" - ★★★★★); WhatsOnStage ("the perfect production of a delicious musical that audiences won't want to miss" - ★★★★★); PocketSizeTheatre ("amazingly inventive staging... a delightful show, imaginatively staged, beautifully played" - ★★★★); Musical Theatre Review ("a truly miraculous piece of theatre... a flippant yet philosophical production which is beautifully crafted" - ★★★★★).