Thu, 20 Jun 2019
Pamela Raith Photography
Jon Lewis reviews Amélie at the New Theatre Oxford
June 17 – 22
The Watermill Theatre has a long history of reinventing not-so-successful musicals, invigorating them with its trademark actor-musician philosophy, refreshing them with the theatre’s intimacy and immediacy. Backed by commercial producers Hartshorn-Hook Productions and Sellador Productions, and in a large-scale theatre, Michael Fentiman’s intelligent production of Amélie enables a superb ensemble to showcase its talents.
Written by the all-American creative team, Craig Lucas (book), Daniel Messé (music) and Nathan Tysen with Messé (lyrics) in 2017, the musical’s based on Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s whimsical 2001 film of the same name. Firmly in the school of Stephen Sondheim with clever, jaunty lyrics, often sung quickly, the more traditional Broadway production received mixed reviews. Now the integration of music and acting delights, upright pianos used as props for market stalls and shop displays, cellos becoming two halves of a heart, symbolic of the fractured loves of many characters.
Designer Madeleine Girling’s set creates iconic images of the French metro, with the central character, Amélie, living in a circular room behind a period clock face like that adorning the Gare D’Orsay. Whimsically, she enters her room holding onto a red lampshade on a rope, a Parisian Mary Poppins spreading goodwill, healing everyone’s problems bar her own. Audrey Brisson, star of many Kneehigh productions, shares only the bobbed haircut with Audrey Tautou from the film, whose director, Jeunet, and co-writer Guillaume Laurent, are not credited in the programme. With her diminutive frame, delivering the risqué comments Messé has retained from the original, Bresson is funny but not irritating.
The ensemble acts as a Greek chorus, narrating and commenting on Amélie’s journey towards love. Most of the action is set in 1997 during the summer of Princess Diana’s fatal Parisian car crash, and there’s a show-stopping number where Elton John (Caolan McCarthy), dressed in a white outfit with angel wings, sings a pastiche of Candle in the Wind. Danny Mac plays Amélie’s unexpected love, Nino, with the two of them playing games of hide and seek across the city until Amélie’s colleagues and clients in the café where she works brings them together for the happy ending. Enjoyable.