Amélie at The Other Palace: A journey into Parisian paradise that is bursting with creative imagination
Award-winning designer Madeleine Girling makes the stage the pièce de résistance of this production.
At the first thought of there being a musical of Amélie, one can’t help but hear the iconic accordion of the ‘Les Jours Triste’ (The Sad Days), or the sombre piano of ‘Comptine d’un autre été, l’aprés-midi (Rhyme from another summer afternoon). Being theatre, we do also get a little more flamboyant flair than the film as the talented Caolan McCarthy impersonates Elton John in a dream sequence.
Amélie is based on the five-time Oscar-nominated film, that has been adored for its simple story, and the invitation to take the time to appreciate the sound of a spoon breaking the caramelized top of a crème brulée. Amélie Poulain (Audrey Brisson) is a young woman working in small café and lives alone. Her mother (Rachel Dawson) died in freak accident in which a suicide jumper managed to crush her too, and her father (Jez Unwin) now spends his days tending to his garden gnome. In an equally freak occurrence, Diana dies in a car crash in Paris, the news of which makes Amélie drop a bottle cap in shock, which rolls to spot where Amélie finds a tin box filled with keepsakes that had been buried by a young boy forty years ago. Amélie decides to make it her mission to find the owner of the tin and generally spread small acts of kindness. On her journey, she finds her chance to fall in love and overcome the fear in voicing what is in her heart.
The allure of Amélie is its hypersensitivity to the magic in our worlds that is hard to detect in the interior of everyday life. As per the film, the plot is pushed forward with the citations of exact distances and speeds, like a child reading an encyclopaedia with cherubic wonder. As we’re taken through the journey of Amélie’s frustrating childhood, puppeteer Oliver Grant masters a small wooden puppet of a very young Amélie that brilliantly presents childhood as if from the eyes of an imaginative child. And in the opening scene, music is brought to halt as the blind beggar (Josh Sneesby) catches a fly in mid-flight and then lets it go to the roar of the music; we can almost trace the journey of the fly as the heads of the cast turn left and right.
Audrey Tautou’s extremely short and bluntly cut, feathered black bob (arguably as iconic as “The Rachel” haircut) is just as iconic on Brisson, whose hair has only differed in slightly more pronounced flicks at the ends. Her performance is not only true to the character that we have already fallen in love with but brings other dimensions to the character of Amélie to life, that are perhaps glossed over in the film, such as a sharp wit. Having previously toured with Cirque du Soleil, Brisson is able show off her upper-body strength by holding onto a handle within a peach-coloured lampshade that hoists her up into her cylindrical home; it has all the charm of Mary Poppins’ umbrella mechanism and none of the righteous stiffness.
It has to be noted that the creative team are overwhelmingly male (the book, music, lyrics and direction are all by men) and this tangibly comes across in the portrayal of the undying cliché of the woman who is not like other women, in that her nonconformity makes her a teasing challenge to seduce. “The girl with the glass” is one of the songs in this musical that highlights this perfectly; a song about a woman in a painting who looks away into a distance as the rest of the figures in the scene are laughing amongst themselves.
It is the stage design that wins the heart; award-winning designer Madeleine Girling makes the stage the pièce de résistance of this production. The distinctive colour palette of Amélie, made up of antique olive greens and rouge reds, is used for doors, backgrounds and costume. The peeling paint and rustic aesthetic is so uniquely French. The café is set up with the use of several small tables, dotted around the stage, with individual blue lamps, a very realistic café counter filled with drinks and sandwiches and a glass menu on a stand covered in white scribblings of specials. The photobooth, which is central to the story of the mystery man who seems to leave behind a trail of his portraits, is brilliantly constructed with a dramatically bright light that blazes from the gap underneath the curtain to imitate the flash. And Amélie’s barrel-shaped home which exists on an upper tier of the stage, is like a giant peephole into her warm, intimate living room.
One of the thorns in the side of this production are the awkwardly phony French accents (aside from Audrey Brisson, who is French-Canadian) – like cava impersonating champagne – and came across as an unintentional parody. Adapting a film to stage has its limitations; Director Michael Fentiman, however, has masterfully proven that theatre allows for a more fluid imagination than film. To mark a clear distinction what you can get away with on stage and film, figures with giant figs for heads appear from thin air, terrorising Collignon whilst a disorientating strobe light goes off – a mean man who runs the local produce stand, who also happens to have an unexplained phobia of figs. The final kiss at the end takes place in pin-drop silence, an experience that is unique to theatre. Overall, the adaption loses none of the charm of the original film, and is instead a wonderful celebration of the imagination.
Amélie the musical will be in at The Other Palace theatre from Fri 29 Nov 2019 – Sat 1 Feb 2020. Get your tickets here.
Photos Credit: Pamela Raith Photography