Few French films have truly captured the imagination of a mainstream British audience on the scale Amélie did in 2001.
The critics loved it too, showering it with 9 BAFTA nominations and awards for Best Original Screenplay and Best Production Design.
Given its strong fan base it is easy to see the appeal of adapting Amélie for the stage. Yet anyone who has seen the film will also recognise how ambitious this is. On the big screen, this whimsical romantic comedy was not only enchanting it was visually stunning too.
Madeline Girling’s almost cartoonish design is a real winner from the off. Although the action is clearly set in late 20th century Paris, with an historical reference to the death of Princess Diana, the set transports us immediately into the quirky and surreal inner-world of Amélie Poulain.
Amélie is no ordinary romantic heroine. She dedicates her life to bringing love to others through small acts of kindness, while at the same time running from any true intimacy in her own life. Her home is presented as a warm but isolated, secure cocoon into which Amélie floats, Mary Poppins like, from the street below at the tug of a lamp-shade.
Audrey Brisson’s previous experience as an acrobat with Cirque du Soleil makes her a prime fit for this leading role, capturing both the physical awkwardness and surety of this complex character. Opposite her, Danny Mac, as Nico, Amélie’s perfect, misfit match, gives a beautifully under-stated performance that leaves us feeling we want to see so much more of him – in a way just like Amélie does.
In this production Selladoor and The Watermill Theatre keep close to the main thread of the original story and wrap it in music, with a strong supporting cast of talented actor musicians who largely create an infectious folk sound with strong drum beats, accordions and a variety of string instruments. The historical link with the televising of Lady Diana’s funeral makes way for a showstopping end to Act I from Caolan McCarthy on piano as Elton John, backed by an energetic gospel choir.
While there are no obvious chorus lines ringing in your ears as you leave, overall the music creates an attractive if at times absurd soundtrack (where else will you hear the lyrics ‘bacterial vaginosis’ in a song?). To the beat of a drum we’re swept along on Amélie’s adventure, even if it’s not always clear exactly what is happening.
Those familiar with the movie, will likely fill any gaps in the story the production skips over. If you haven’t seen the film, all but the central romantic story-line could be difficult to follow. But don’t let this put you off, because while some of the nuances of the movie might be lost in translation, there is much to delight in this dream-like show, and it’s likely to win Amélie a whole new generation of fans.★ ★ ★ ★
Amélie The Musical is at the Opera House Manchester from Tuesday 6 August – Saturday 10 August 2019. See website for full tour details.
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