Amelie is a charming musical which occasionally veers into being overly saccharine before being dragged back on track by truly bonkers moments.
Based on the 2001 film of the same name, Amelie is the story of a young woman living in Paris who works as a waitress in a café on Montmartre the site of the Sacré-Cœur – the Sacred Heart Church. While I have never seen the film, my viewing companion tells me that the stage production follows the plot quite faithfully.
The musical opens with a busker playing an accordion as members of the cast join him onstage. The actors play various instruments and provide all the music for the production. There are two pianos, several violins and cellos, twos accordions and a flute. The musical style and delivery reminded me strongly of “Once”.
We are firstly introduced to young Amelie, a puppet, brilliantly handled by Oliver Grant and beautifully interacted with by the actors. We learn that Amelie was an only child of a cold, distant father and a neurotic mother who longed for a son. When her father diagnoses her with a heart condition, her parents decide to home school her. With only a goldfish for a friend, Amelie grows up isolated and insular. Following her mother’s death and her father’s preference for the garden gnome in which he keeps his wife ashes, Amelie moves to Paris to live a solitary life.
Prompted by the discovery of a 40 year old box in her apartment and the death of Princess Diana, Amelie decides to embark on a mission of providing happiness to people, beginning with tracking down the man who the box belongs to, before turning her attentions to people closer to her, including her father.
Along the way she starts to fall in love with Nino a shy young man whose hobby is to collect discarded photobooth photographs (side note to the younger generation – the selfies of the pre-mobile world!!). Nino, like Amelie, lives in his own world of isolation, observing the goings on of life without really engaging in it. When Amelie happens upon Nino’s book of photographs, they are forced to interact with each other.
This is a really gentle musical with a whimsical story and some great songs. It manages to avoid becoming completely syrupy sweet by chucking in some truly crackers moments. I don’t want to give any spoilers so will just say the Elton John moment had my jaw on the floor and the delivery of “There’s no place like gnome” was hilarious and so surreal I started to wonder if someone had popped an hallucinogen in my interval drink!!
The staging is superb; it is fairly minimal but from the first second you know without doubt that you are in Paris. The pianos and the photobooth are very effectively used in a variety of manners. Amelie’s apartment is beautifully designed and her mode of transport to and from it, wonderful.
Audrey Brisson as Amelie is a delight; a petite powerhouse, she creates a character who is funny, endearing, vulnerable, and engaging. In a demanding role where she is on stage for the majority of the time, she delivers a consistently high-level performance.
The entire cast is really strong, not only great actors but highly accomplished musicians. Oliver Grant’s puppetry is excellent, while Caolon McCarthy unashamedly attempts to steal the show with his Elton John (sort of) tribute! Every performer attacks their part with total gusto and their enjoyment radiates out to the audience.
My only (small) criticism is that the production is longer than it needs to be with 36 songs stuffed in. Occasionally it feels like the writers felt obligated to ensure every actor got a storyline and a song when perhaps that was a little unnecessary.
Overall this is a really enjoyable musical that will leave you bouncing out of the theatre full of joie de vivre!
Reviewed by Emma Heath
Photo: Pamela Raith
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