Criterion Theatre, London
I previously reviewed this entrancing musical version of the 2001 French movie when it received its London premiere in December 2019 in a new production that had launched at tiny Watermill Theatre in 2019 before arriving at The Other Palace.
I could simply reprint that review now that it has transferred to the Criterion. Comparing it to the original Broadway production, which I also saw, I wrote: “It feels like it has undergone a complete transformation. Just as, across the show’s two hour traffic, its titular heroine does, too, from a delicate vulnerability and aloneness to being ready to share her life with someone. I barely recognised what I was seeing or hearing. Yes, a little whimsy sometimes goes a long way; but here in Michael Fentiman’s perfectly judged production, there’s wit in abundance and also some necessary grit, too.
“It’s partly a question of scale and partly of expectation: on Madeleine Girling’s gorgeous set of the Paris bistro in which works, with little hideaway set pieces for her apartment (that she usually accesses by being hoist aloft to it by a lampshade), a photo booth and her neighbour’s apartment, this slice of Paris life comes alive. Some of the set is even contained within the two onstage pianos, too.”
I’ll concede that its sweetness and eccentricity may not be to all tastes, much like the original film wasn’t either. As Ben Brantley wrote in his original review of the musical for the New York Times, the film, he said: “inspired uncommonly extreme responses. People were usually head over heels about it (“It’s so cute!”) or violently allergic to it (“But it’s so cute!”).”
But surrender to it, as I did and do, and there’s hardly a more delightful show in town. Sort of like Once crossed with Romantics Anonymous, it is a show about finding love, as it follows an emotionally resistant woman (brought up by her neglectful father after her mother’s early death) finally opens up her heart.
It is set to a score that floods it with feeling and wistful melody, and this production delicately and deliciously enhances it with a vivid immediacy as it is played live by the actors themselves. A 16-strong company display admirable dexterity as they bring a thrilling commitment to a storytelling technique that is reminiscent of the glorious work of Kneehigh by way of the kind of choreographic texture that Steven Hoggett brought to shows for Frantic Assembly, Once and Harry Potter and the Cursed Child.
That exceptional company are superbly led by a captivating Audrey Brisson, at once vulnerable and determined, in the title role, bringing heart as well as serious craft to its enveloping warmth. It is my new favourite show in town, one I’ll be seeing again…. and again!