Review: Amélie The Musical, Reading
Quirky, creative and a little camp, Amélie, starring Audrey Brisson and Strictly star Danny Mac, is pure escapism – something we could all do with right now.
It’s hard enough to stage a production when there’s a book to compare it to, but a five times Oscar-nominated film and a Broadway production? It would give the most hardened luvvies the willies. But Michael Fentiman’s UK version of Amélie The Musical been reworked – in part by The Watermill Theatre, Newbury – to more than match the magical whimsy of its over-achieving, big screen sister.
For those of you who haven’t a scooby about the plot, it’s the story of a lonely girl, who meddles in the lives of others to spread happiness where there is sadness. Then she gets fanny flutters for hot homme, Nino, and has to wrestle with the idea of putting her own feelings first. Throw in Princess Diana, Elton John, a dancing gnome, large dildos, and a trippy moment with a trio of figs, and this is not your average love story.
Set in 1997 Paris (the year Princess Diana died in the city), Madeleine Girling’s stunning set design is a love letter to the French capital. Some may feel the old Metropolitan station back drop and checked table clothed café, is clichéd. But it’s the romantic bit of Paris we all cling to, editing out the the frenetic, loud, dirty bits that don’t conjure up a city of love and lost souls.
But let’s get onto the cast, because they’re fantastic. Pocket rocket Audrey Brisson is fabulous in the titular role. What a voice! And for one so small, her physicality and expressive face portray every emotion. She also has superb comic timing, and some very funny one liners.
Love interest, Nino, played by former Strictly star Danny Mac, is barely recognisable. For starters he’s fully clothed, has a beard and hadn’t been dipped in fake tan – plus he can sing! He also plays piano and and hits a tambourine like a happy-clappy member of the god squad, high on Christianity. Trust me, it makes sense. But he brings real warmth to the role and, to be honest, I would’ve liked to have seen more of him… on stage, naughty.
Other notable performances came from café confidante and fierce female, Suzanne, played by Kate Robson-Stuart and Caolan McCarthy who plays multiple roles but Elton John – complete with angel wings, belting out Goodbye, Amelie – was my favourite.
You have to hand it to Tom Jackson Greaves who has done a superb job with movement direction. Amélie swings around the set on a fringed lampshade and the ensemble cast of actor-musicians, act, sing and dance, provide the soundtrack and smoothly move the props as the story rolls from one scene to the next. It’s complex but appears to be effortless.
My only criticism, is that the second half didn’t quite match up to the energy of the first. Often it’s the other way around. We were all anticipating the moment Amélie and Nino snogged the faces off each other. Boy, did they keep us waiting. The reality was a tender moment in total silence that was a little bit awkward. I wanted more of the camp, quirkiness, but that’s me. I’m not that subtle.
That said, this is a quirky, fun show that’s creatively staged and beautifully performed. It’s pure escapism and we all need a bit of that right now.
THE MUDDY VERDICT
Good for: Lovers of the original film and anyone seeking 180 minutes of pure escapism.
Not for: Young kids. There are some saucy bits that y0u might not want to explain on the way home.
See Amélie The Musical at The Hexagon, Reading until Sat 12 Oct.