BWW Review: AMELIE, The Other Palace
"Times are hard for dreamers", but that won't stop Amélie Poulain. Falsely diagnosed with a heart condition as a child, she was home-schooled by her mother and kept at a distance by her germophobe father, forcing her to retreat into her imagination for amusement and company.
Fast-forward to August 1997 and she's working in a café in Paris, keeping herself to herself until she finds a box of childhood trinkets and becomes determined to reunite them with their owner. This sets her off on a mission to meddle in other people's lives - and maybe even change her own if she'll ever talk to Nino, who's fascinated by the identity of the mysterious photo booth man.
The beloved Jean-Pierre Jeunet film was adapted into a musical that made its debut at Berkeley Repertory Theatre in 2015, before a short stint on Broadway. The music has been slightly reworked for the UK production, introducing a bit of a French tinge that's reminiscent of Yann Tiersen's film score, and taking an actor-musician approach to the performance. There is an immediacy to this, plus Michael Fentiman's direction helps to create a sense of intimacy between performer and audience.
Anyone who's seen the film will be aware of its quirkiness and penchant for odd little details; this has not been lost in translation, as both book (Craig Lucas) and lyrics (Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé) incorporate this with ease, giving the show real - and often surreal - charm. This style opens up the opportunity for silly, clever rhymes, flights of fancy, and even figments of the characters' imaginations.
Its humour doesn't detract from the more moving moments, in fact it accentuates the emotion. The songs vary in their function, some helping to move on the narrative whilst others focus on individual character development and their feelings, particularly Amélie's - a vital thing, as she would otherwise be a bit of a closed book.
Madeleine Girling's Métro station set design (complete with the famous Art Nouveau sign) instantly conjures Paris; it's a visual treat and a delight to gaze at to try and take in the minutiae, such as the selection of posters on the back wall. Every inch of space is used and the transitions between locations are swift and, on the whole, seamless.
The cast is a well-oiled machine, working as one to bring this fantastical story to life. Each also has their own standout moment in the spotlight, though I have to highlight Caolan McCarthy's Elton John moment, as well as Oliver Grant as fig-serenading Lucien and, as Amélie's father, Jez Unwin's sentimental attachment to a garden gnome. Chris Jared brings a quiet intensity to Nino, his fascination with strangers in train station photo booths making him equally intriguing as a character.
Audrey Brisson was made to play Amélie. Her physicality, musicality and the mischievous glint in her eye all combine to give a memorable performance; Brisson quickly establishes a rapport with the audience, which helps to guide us on her journey. She adroitly judges the tone of each scene, instinctively knowing when to bring out her inner clown and when to tug on our heartstrings.
This show is the perfect tonic for a world perpetually full of doom and gloom; it's as happy-making as cracking crème brûlée with a spoon. An absolute must-see - and one of the best shows of the year by far.
Picture credit: Pamela Raith Photography