Touring – reviewed at Watermill Theatre, Bagnor
In a week marked by the heartbreaking sight of Notre Dame aflame, the decidedly Gallic charms of Amélie the Musical arrives to offer a soothing balm. The show – music by Daniel Messé, lyrics by Messé and Nathan Tysen and a book by Craig Lucas – didn’t fare so well on Broadway in 2017 but the creatives, along with director Michael Fentiman, have substantially reworked the material to great effect.
The result is something which cleaves much closer to Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s original film Le Fabuleux Destin d’Amélie Poulain in every inch of its spirit. From singing goldfish to licking stage blood off fingers, Elton John cameos to intimidating figs, there’s a wonderful weirdness to the world created here. It’s no wonder that the introverted Amélie struggles at first to find her place in this hyper-real version of Paris.
Madeleine Girling’s design plays up these fantastical elements with some ingenious choices whose reveals are a constant delight, especially in the intimacy of the Watermill. And Elliot Griggs’ lighting is crucial in setting this visual language with all its transportative magic. Even the puppetry works (despite my enduring antipathy to the form).
A 12-strong actor-musician ensemble are on magnificent form throughout, whether executing Tom Jackson Greaves’ movement with eloquence or nailing Messé’s revitalised score. Arranged for piano, woodwind, accordion and achingly good strings by Barnaby Race, George Francis’ musical direction is inspired, infusing the joie de vivre that was sadly missing from the Broadway cast recording.
And at the heart of the story, Audrey Brisson is perfect casting as Amélie. She has the kind of other-worldliness that at one glance is quirkily charming (of course she flies into her bedroom) but at another is cripplingly socially awkward. And as the second half winds into a captivating pseudo-love story with Chris Jared’s entirely genial Nino, Brisson sensitively captures the breath-catching wonder of finally taking steps towards self-actualisation.
The final scenes are beautifully affecting, the production able to use silence just as powerfully as it does its soaring songs. And I absolutely adored it. For all its fantastical leanings, there’s something so true to heart about its messaging – the isolation of metropolitan living, how cruel a trap anxiety can be, the enormous power of small acts of kindness…follow those blue arrows and go see Amélie wherever you can.