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Amélie The Musical at the Criterion Theatre | Review

They do better in Amélie the Musical at French accents than they do over at Les Misérables – inasmuch as they do them in the first place. It’s been a while since I’ve seen actor-musicianship on this scale in the West End: I’d have to go back at least as far as the 2013-15 West End run of the Irish musical Once – indeed, I recognised Jez Unwin from the cast of that production. It’s a slight pity the Amélie programme doesn’t tell the audience who plays which instruments, suffice to say I felt a little sorry for the person tasked with lugging a double bass around the stage.

Audrey Brisson as 'Amelie' - credit Matt Crockett.
Audrey Brisson as ‘Amelie’ – credit Matt Crockett.

Now that it has found a West End home, the show doesn’t fill the stage space as well as it could – from my dress circle vantage point, there were moments when much of the front of the stage wasn’t being used at all, which may well be related to coronavirus restrictions, ensuring sufficient distance between the cast and the front row of the stalls. Nonetheless, it had a distancing effect which, I would imagine, wasn’t there when the show was at The Other Palace Theatre. The irony was not lost on me in a show (partly) about bringing people together and demonstrating how there isn’t that much that separates us after all.

At times, the narrative felt somewhat far-fetched (at one point, personified figs take their revenge on their presumably unpleasant greengrocer), though the show puts across a reasonably convincing line of argument that the world can be a considerably smaller place than we can sometimes believe it to be. Connections are made, and the title character (Audrey Brisson) does well to overcome the challenges set before her in childhood: she was home-schooled so missed out on classmate interaction. Her father, Raphael (Jez Unwin), was ridiculously overprotective and her mother, Amandine (Rachel Dawson) had some forthright views on life, so absurd the audience was largely amused by her opinions, such as, “We are all permanent stuck. Alone. Forever.

There’s a quirkiness to the production: a short-lived major interest in Princess Diana on Amélie’s part, most likely sparked by her death (the story is set in 1997) results in the Act One closer, ‘Goodbye, Amélie’, which sees Caolan McCarthy assume the role of Sir Elton John, complete with spectacular spectacles, outlandish costume, and the rest of the cast forming a choir. There’s a lot of exposition: we know what happens in Amélie’s life, and in the lives of those she comes into contact with – even to the point of which of her work colleagues has gone to the toilet – but details of what thoughts are running through Amélie’s mind at any given moment are sparse to say the least.

The score is often jaunty, and the musical numbers more often than not drive the story forward. I’m not sure Nino (Chris Jared), a love interest of Amélie, is as wonderful as the leading lady thinks he is – going “from booth to booth” (that is, photo booths) collecting photographs of people he does not know is eccentric at best and downright sinister at worst, even considering that the show is set in 1997 and not 2021.

But none of the songs are particularly memorable (at least not to me) and it’s telling that I didn’t detect anyone humming any of the tunes as the audience made its way out of the theatre. The set is decent (I liked the manner in which Amélie enters and leaves her bedroom) and pastel-coloured, and while the musical numbers don’t quite soar in the way in which many West End musicals have done, the core message of spreading goodness around is apt in these still uncertain times. There are thirty-six musical numbers throughout the evening (the show isn’t sung-through) but this is nonetheless a pleasant and delightful production.

4 stars

Review by Chris Omaweng

Amélie secretly improvises small, but extraordinary acts of kindness discovering the possibilities around every corner and bringing happiness to those she encounters. When a chance at love comes her way, Amélie realises that to find her own contentment she’ll have to risk everything and say what’s in her heart. Experience this beautiful story and be inspired by this imaginative dreamer who discovers her voice, uncovers the power of human connection and sees possibility around every corner.

The five-time Oscar®-nominated film is brought to life by a cast of actor-musicians and set to a critically acclaimed re-orchestrated score. With music by Hem’s Daniel Messé, lyrics by Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé and book by Craig Lucas, this musical adaptation of the five-time Oscar®-nominated film written by Jean-Pierre Jeunet and Guillaume Laurant, is directed by Michael Fentiman.

Audrey Brisson (The Elephantom, Pinocchio and Pericles (National Theatre), The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk (Kneehigh), and The Grinning Man (Bristol Old Vic)), as ‘Amélie’.
The full cast includes Sioned Saunders as ‘Gina’ (Camelot– The Watermill, Made in Dagenham – Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch), Flora Spencer-Longhurst as ‘Georgette’ / ‘Sylvie’ (Once – Phoenix Theatre, The Real Thing– Rose Theatre Kingston), Rachel Dawson as ‘Amandine’ / ‘Philomene’ (The Jungle Book – UK Tour, A Little Night Music – The Watermill), Oliver Grant as ‘Lucien’ / ‘Mysterious Man’ (War Horse – UK Tour, Twelfth Night – Chichester Festival Theatre), Chris Jared as ‘Nino Quincampoix’ (946: the Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips – Shakespeare’s Globe, The Duchess of Malfi – Nottingham Playhouse), Caolan McCarthy as ‘Hippolito’ / ‘Elton John’ (The Plough and the Stars – NT, The Beggar’s Opera/Alice in Wonderland – Storyhouse), Samuel Morgan-Grahame as ‘Joseph’ / ‘Fluffy’ (Sister Act – UK Tour, All My Sons – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre), Kate Robson-Stuart as ‘Suzanne’ (Crazy For You – UK Tour, Untold Stories – Watermill Theatre), Jack Quarton as ‘Blind Beggar’ (Assassins – The Watermill, Wonderland – Nottingham Playhouse), Jez Unwin as Raphael / Bretodeau (Oliver – Leicester Curve, Once – Phoenix Theatre) and Johnson Willis as Collignon / Dufayel (Harold and Maude – Charing Cross Theatre, Dido Queen of Carthage & Salome – RSC Swan). Nuwan Hugh Perera, Miiya Alexandra, Robyn Sinclair and Matthew James Hinchliffe complete the ensemble.


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