It may be a little surprising for people encountering the storyline in the musical Amour that the cast aren’t lying when they sing about a statue that stands in a wall in Paris, of man that appears to be walking out from the wall but is stuck. The sculpture was made in 1989 in honour of Marcel Aymé (1902-1967), a novelist, screenwriter and playwright. In his book Le Passe-muraille (that is, The Man Who Walked Through Walls), the story is told of a public sector clerk who is unpopular with colleagues, partially because he has the work-rate of a private sector clerk, and partially because he simply isn’t very sociable, at least not at work.
In the version told by this musical adaptation, Dusoleil (Gary Tushaw) discovers the ability to walk through solid structures by accident when a power cut happens just as he is fumbling for his front door key to get in. Confession: I’ve seen a production of this show before, in 2015, when it was presented by the Royal Academy of Music’s postgraduate musical theatre course. In that student production, there were a fair number of random French words and phrases sprinkled throughout the performance, all of which had much of the audience in cahoots. Here, there was just one: Claire Machin’s Whore almost yelling “Baguette!”
One or two more of those moments wouldn’t have gone amiss. Anyway, the lighting is adequate but not perfect, because sometimes the audience must work a little too hard, depending on one’s vantage point, to work out who exactly is singing at any given point. The ‘in the round’ staging from a previous production has been retained, though this time the balcony seating is partially taken up as performance space, and partially used by the six-piece band led by Jordan Li-Smith.
By this production’s own programme’s admission, the show was a flop on Broadway, closing two weeks after press night. Seeing it in the relatively intimate Charing Cross Theatre, it’s not difficult to see why it didn’t have staying power on a larger proscenium arch stage. Even with four bicycles circling the performance space at the same time, the stage never felt overcrowded, and the style of music, rich in lyrical content, also suits a smaller auditorium.
The set is kept simple but nonetheless effective enough. For instance, a scene in a courtroom was more reliant on costumes than set or props to provide the visual feel of a courtroom. Now, there are some musicals out there without a love triangle, but this isn’t one of them. Isabelle (Anna O’Byrne) is impressed by the man whom the French press have dubbed ‘Passepartout’ but is married to another, named only as the Prosecutor (Alasdair Harvey). But ‘Passepartout’, that is, Dusoleil, is in love with Isabelle. Dusoleil is arrested and put in custody, but the hapless police overlook his ability to walk through solid structures. Thus, the shortness of his spell in custody is hardly a surprise.
But the whole love triangle thing is forgivable in the light of a reasonably unpredictable conclusion, at least for those coming across this story for the first time. Some seemed genuinely surprised immediately after the show that things ended in the way in which they did – in short, a fairy-tale ending is denied. But it’s a compelling production, in which the second half was more engrossing than the first. A little attention needs to be paid to the sound during the show: these actors can belt very, very proficiently. The plot might have been thinner than the paper onto which press night reviewers were scribbling notes. Still, it’s a charming and delightful night out.
Review by Chris Omaweng
Paris, 1950 – a shy, unassuming civil servant, Dusoleil, lives alone and works diligently in a dreary office. To pass the time, he writes letters to his mother and daydreams about the beautiful Isabelle, who is kept locked away by her controlling husband. When Dusoleil miraculously gains the ability to walk through walls, he not only begins to lead a double life, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor to right the wrongs of his war-impoverished Parisian neighbours, but also gains the self-confidence to woo Isabelle and, just for a while, live the life he has always longed for.
Adapted from a 1943 short story Le Passe-Muraille by Marcel Aymé, Amour opened on Broadway in 2002 and was nominated for five Tony Awards, including Best Musical.
Cast: Gary Tushaw as Dusoleil, Anna O’Byrne as Isabelle and Alasdair Harvey as the Prosecutor. They will be joined by Elissa Churchill, Claire Machin, Keith Ramsay, Steven Serlin, Alistair So and Daniel Stockton, with understudies Laura Barnard and Jack Reitman.
Creative team: Director Hannah Chissick, Choreographer Matt Cole, Production Designer Adrian Gee, Lighting Designer Rob Halliday, Sound Designer Andrew Johnson, Musical Director Jordan Li-Smith, Producer & Casting Director Danielle Tarento.
Music by Michel Legrand
Libretto by Didier van Cauwelaert
Adapted from Le Passe-Muraille
by Marcel Aymé
(Les Éditions Gallimard)
English adaptation by Jeremy Sams
Charing Cross Theatre
London WC2N 6NL
Booking to 20th July 2019