BWW Review: AMELIE, Watermill Theatre
Craig Lucas, Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen's musical adaptation of the acclaimed film Amélie, which ran on Broadway in 2017 and now kicks off a UK tour, fills the Watermill's stage with the music, bustle and romance of Paris.
Quirky and sweet, the piece (significantly reworked since its Broadway incarnation) particularly suits the Windmill's signature actor-muso style, and Michael Fentiman's production has much skill and imagination. A strong ensemble - with an impressive array of instruments - pulse along with the apparently delicate heart of Amélie Poulain.
Fearing for her physical health, Amélie's parents resolve to provide her with as little stimulation as possible. Educated at home and denied even the excitement of her pet goldfish, Amélie withdraws into the imaginary, even after leaving home for the thrum of 1990s Paris. However, in time, the city cannot help but pique her curiosity, and her efforts in others' lives seem to guarantee her a place in Paris's heart.
Audrey Brisson has some gorgeous moments as the protagonist, gliding through this immense role. Her interactions with the puppet of her young self - a wonderful inclusion by Fentiman - are particularly enjoyable. Steely glints of a cheeky personality give way to a tremendous sense of fun, and Brisson gradually presents a wholly endearing heroine. Chris Jared matches her; their opening to Act Two is simply beautiful. Jez Unwin also provides a particularly earnest performance as Amélie's father.
Madeline Girling's imaginative design embraces the story's surreal wit. This is fluently supported by Tom Jackson Greaves' movement direction, which is performed particularly well by Brisson, and by Barnaby Race's musical arrangements.
The score itself is not exactly hummable, but its consistent choral narration is striking and gives a rousing, stirring pace that suits the Parisian setting and the somewhat episodic nature of the story. Both book and lyrics provide witty snapshots of characters' lives - some of which are central to the plot, and some that seem to zip by like a face in a crowd.
The singing is strong, if not exceptional, throughout, and the musicianship is stunning. The only issue is that occasionally it is difficult to catch pacy lyrics over the volume and proximity of the instrumentation.
All in all, this is a skilled and sensitive production of a hugely fun new piece of writing. Although closer to the film than its fellow on Broadway, the production still seems to ooze originality; this adaptation is far from lazy. Playful and charming, it's easy for audiences to fall in love with Amélie and her story.
Amélie at the Watermill Theatre until 18 May
Photo credit: Pamela Raith