One of the beauties of the film Amélie is that very little happens. There’s no drama, no test of faith and no real obstacles to be overcome. And yet it’s mesmerising, whimsical and charming. So how could a musical adaptation live up to its following, especially when Yann Tiersen already created a fantastic score?
Amélie Poulain (Audrey Brisson) is a woman with a huge heart, matched only by her imagination. After a childhood that was far from ideal, Amélie has moved to Paris where she works in a cafe and spends her time performing extraordinary acts of kindness. But when a chance encounter offers her a shot at happiness will she embrace it, or run away?
While the stage adaptation lacks some of the intense, intimate scenes the film provides, the overall effect is still charming. Madeleine Girling’s set is a joy to behold and the choice to tell the story via actor musicians is inspired. The ensemble provides some of the magic the film offers and its subtle comedy becomes more apparent via the musical’s script.
Performances are strong throughout, as the cast move seamlessly between characters, instruments and movements. Danny Mac as Nino is almost recognisable and his performance is touching and believable. Brisson proves a perfect on-stage Amélie – naive and childlike, yet wise and endearing. The supporting cast really bring the story to life and it’s an extremely enjoyable performance.
It is testament to the writers’ (Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen) understanding of Amélie that most of the songs are subtle. ‘Times are Hard for Dreamers’ is a particularly beautiful song; however, ‘Collignon’s Nightmare’ and ‘There’s No Place like Gnome’ seem slightly out of place.
In adapting the film for the stage Craig Lucas struggles to give enough time to the underlying stories of Amélie’s relationship with her father and the book of photos, which sadly results in a loss of impact. The gnome becomes a pantomime feature and is one of the many comedic moments – along with an Elton John-style performance by Caolan McCarthy – that don’t suit the story and feel forced. On the other hand, the photo booth becomes a lot more pivotal to the plot; artistically it’s used well but this does mean that some of the story’s mystery is lost.
That said, the story maintains its quirky appeal and it’s a nice, inoffensive musical.
Review by Michaela Clement-Hayes