Amélie at the Other Palace
If you liked Amélie, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s endlessly quirky 2001 rom-com, then you’ll love the musical adaptation hitting the Other Palace in Victoria this month. With loving attention to detail and to the spirit of the original, this show is an all-singing, all-instrument playing romp through the life of its eponymous heroine, set among the café tables and Photomatons of Paris.
Amélie (Audrey Brisson) has always been a dreamer, right from her beginnings as the only child of neurotic parents – wittily and succinctly rendered in Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen’s opening number. Years later, a 23-year-old Amélie lives alone in the big city, comfortably hermetic from her fellow Parisians, until a series of quasi-magical occurrences prompts her to reach out to those around her.
Given the constraints of the small stage, director Michael Fentiman shows ingenuity in marshalling Amélie’s 12-strong cast – all of whom double as musicians of admirable quality. Madeleine Girling’s design is beautiful, enabling the dynamism that makes the production compelling while also effectively evoking the feeling of makeshift glamour and opportunity that suit the setting. The cast’s sleeves-rolled-up approach to scene-shifting creates a cosy onstage community. In a production all about distance and proximity, the company’s jostling and beautifully orchestrated movements (by Tom Jackson Greaves) subtly suggest the city-dweller’s simultaneous attraction to and repulsion from relying on others.
Each cast member shines in their own moment under the spotlight. Caolan McCarthy deserves special mention for his genius turn as the Elton John Amélie imagines singing at her own funeral; Rachel Dawson provides an early moment of pathos as Amélie’s short-lived mother Amandine Poulain. Brisson, in the lead role, is a delight: retaining Audrey Tautou’s charm without copying her characterisation, the actress makes Amélie a character all her own: a no-nonsense, often stony-faced presence who betrays her rich inner life all the more persuasively for her outward stoicism. Judicious use of puppetry and surreal costumes (think giant fig and gnome masks) round out the production and provide the cheeky humour one would expect from an adaptation of this iconic film.
Since the show feels so slick and high-quality, it’s disappointing that the music is so forgettable. A couple of touching songs, and a couple more strokes of genre-bending genius, are surrounded by a great deal of filler. While some moments are sublime, witty and bizarre, others simply expand ponderously on themes we already understand. Poor sound mixing means that about one in four words are audible; perhaps with greater clarity the numbers would have more impact. But then again, perhaps not. With slightly more wit and slightly less weight, Amélie would be great. As it is, it’s touching and funny, a very pleasant evening’s entertainment.
Photos: Pamela Raith
Amélie is at the Other Palace from 29th November until 1st February 2020. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.