BWW Review: AMELIE, New Wimbledon Theatre
It is the irresistible tale of a lonely Parisian waitress who tries to spread happiness in the lives of others, set in a fantasy world. Having been significantly reworked since appearing on Broadway and following some excellent reviews at The Watermill Theatre, a wonderfully inventive and entertaining version of Amélie is now embarking on an extensive nationwide tour.
Even though Amélie's sheltered and awkward upbringing has made her wary of strangers, she becomes encouraged to engage with life through her anonymous acts of kindness. When she finds an album belonging to Nino, who collects discarded photos, she takes on an enchanting game of hide and seek until the couple are finally united.
Audrey Brisson has a successful history of playing whimsical and slightly ethereal characters; she excelled as Gesolmina in a recent tour of The Strada. As Amélie, she adds a quirky, innocent and utterly charming quality to the character. Her voice is sweet and yet very strong; she is perfect for this role, making it entirely her own.
New to the cast is Danny Mac, who plays love-interest Nino. He plays the role with shy sensitivity and understated charisma. Although he does not have the strength of some of the cast, his voice is melodic, expressive and suitably gentle. Mac and Brisson have a delicate and innocent chemistry, even though the scenes they have together are fleeting.
The rest of the cast is made up of a very talented set of actor-musicians, who demonstrate excellent French accents and very animated playing of the piano, strings and the accordion.
In a universally capable cast, fiddler Kate Robson-Stuart, as café owner Suzanne, has a beautiful tone to her voice, Sophie Crawford has great delivery as charismatic Gina and Johnson Willis is wise and kind as Amélie's artist neighbour and confidant Dufayel.
The music is unmistakably French in tone and charming in content; never has there been a more enchanting song about a fly as the opening number. Although there aren't many songs that remain with you afterwards, 'The hand of destiny', 'Stay' and 'Where do we go from here' are all captivating and every song is performed with skill and great expression.
Tom Jackson Greaves' movement direction has clearly been thought through very carefully. The cast look completely at ease dancing and moving rapidly around the stage with their instruments and Brisson has an opportunity to show some of her acrobatic skills (she previously worked with Cirque du Soleil) as she is delicately elevated to her tiny flat by hanging onto a lampshade and balancing on the window ledge.
Dik Downey's puppets are a wonderful addition, expertly animated by the cast and bringing to life a goldfish, gnome and the heartbreakingly lonely child version of Amélie.
Michael Fentiman's version is more faithful to Jeunet and Laurant's charming 2001 film than the Broadway production and adds whimsical wonder and moments of surrealism. A huge singing gnome and threatening animated figs are just some of the delightful parts of the production.
Madeleine Girling's playful set design is also very much inspired by the film, with a glowing, yellow tint to the lighting and the instantly recognisable Art Deco sign of the Paris metro. The intricate set also features a piano that cleverly opens up to become a tobacconist's kiosk and, at one point, a row of sex toys. A photo booth becomes a confessional.
This is a quirky and unexpected musical that is magical, full of heart and ever so slightly bonkers.
Photo Credit: Pamela Raith