Sunday, 21 July 2019

Amélie the film was a hard act to follow — but maybe it’s just me?

Amélie the film was a hard act to follow — but maybe it’s just me?

Amélie the Musical | New Theatre, Oxford | Monday, June 17

IF you loved the 2000 film, Amélie then you might struggle with this musical stage version.

Amélie the film was a warm and intimate look into a shy young woman’s heart; Amélie the musical tries to do the same but the result is mixed to put it at its best.

It is without doubt slick, professional, highly skilled, exceptionally well-performed and its director and cast pull out everything to make it happen on the giant New Theatre stage.

Audrey Brisson, especially, playing the title character, is outstanding

But for this reviewer at least, it lacked a heart. The music wasn’t memorable and the story — which took up 123 minutes on film — managed to extend to 140 on stage.

The tunes were often simple and repetitive and thank goodness that the musical skills of the cast were able to put some fire into them with harmonies and changes of pace.

This production originated from the Watermill Theatre near Newbury and this reviewer was in at the birth of their ensemble work in the Eighties and was eagerly awaiting this show.

What we got was a piece which might just have been too caught up in its own cleverness.

Everyone on stage was a musician — sometimes multi-instrumental and not just three-chord bashers.

Nearly everyone was also an actor and anyone who has ever tried any of these skills even individually would be in awe of the range and depth of their talent.

Endless work must have gone into blocking out the piece for the New Theatre stage, one of the largest in the UK and able to accommodate the whole of the tiny Watermill Theatre — performance area, auditorium and foyer included — within its borders.

The show is teeming with movement ideas, choreography and imaginative use of scenery and props — pianos double as a bar, a kiosk converts to a front door, all of it is mobile and moves around the stage in a constantly fluid physical narrative.

In production terms Amélie is the height of professionalism and an example to everyone of how to do it. It’s just that the story doesn’t seem big enough to justify a near-operatic approach. Maybe less music and more dialogue would change it.

But then I thought the film was beautiful and unsurpassable, so it may be that I will never be pleased.

Until Saturday.

Mike Rowbottom

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