The return of live theatre last month not only saw some returning favourites but also some new(ish) shows make their West End debuts. Undoubtedly the biggest of these this time around is Amelie. Last seen at The Other Palace for a limited season in late 2019, it has now made the leap to a West End theatre where it officially opened last night.
Amélie is perhaps a difficult show to describe. Including puppetry, a living gnome, a suicidal fish, 3 figs and Elton John, you may think this is the kind of show you could only dream of. But wait. It's real! Based on the 2001 film, Amélie isn't your everyday musical. The story focuses on a girl secretly improvising acts of kindness for other people while trying to allow herself to be happy. Through this, we see an extraordinary world born full of weird and wonderful characters and some truly out there fantasy sequences.
The musical is wonderfully performed by a cast of actor-musos who alternate characters in the show while accompanying themselves, proving no end to their talents. The cast is led by Audrey Brisson, reprising her role as the titular Amélie. Brisson delivers a masterclass performance, truly encompassing the characterisation of the unusual but loveable lead in a way that instantly connects with, not only every other cast member she comes in contact with, but also the entire audience lucky enough to witness this marvel. It's not an easy ask to recreate a performance, made famous in a movie. Brisson not only eradicates any comparisons to that movie's lead Audrey Tatou, but she makes this role her own so much, you find it impossible to imagine anybody else doing it. Whether she is dressed as a Nun or her own version as Zorro, she is always umistakably Amélie.
Amélie's love interest Nino is played by Chris Jared. He provides an excellent balance to his stage partner. The chemistry between the pair is clear to see for anyone watching, which is heightened by the fact they are a real life couple off stage too. Other standouts among the stunning cast include Oliver Grant, Samuel Morgan-Grahame and Caolan McCarthy who sink their teeth into multiple roles, with a particular highlight being McCarthy's hilarious Elton John.
The staging is quite simply equisite. Designed by Madeleine Girling, it effortlessly transports you into the world of the show and makes you feel like you are in Paris yourself. A deceptively simple looking stage adapts itself wonderfully to recreate the Metro, a cafe and the photo booth which is constantly revisited. Its biggest secret is one level up as the stage opens up to reveal Amélie's cosy apartment. The way she travels to it by lampshade is one of the best things you will ever see on the stage.
The music is another strong point for this show, ranging from quirky songs such as 'Three figs', the rousing act one closer 'Goodbye, Amélie' and the infectious 'A Better Haircut'. Its strongest song is undoubtedly the gorgeous 'Times are hard for Dreamers' which takes the art of beautiful storytelling and shows you how to deliver it flawlessly. All performed with genius choreography creates a feast for the eyes and the ears.
The best way to describe this slightly unusual show is completely charming and heartwarming. The show won a legion of fans in its various incarnations before the pandemic, but now it hits differently. A show about being kind in a not always kind world really resonates considering everything we have all been through in the last year. If the beauty of theatre is how it is capable of making you feel things, Amélie does this more than any other show could. With laugh out loud moments as well as, some more emotional moments (though a character death is summed up with "Squish") this show is guaranteed to put a smile on your face - something we are all in desperate need of.
Amélie may be weird but it is also wonderful. Fabulous staging, an incredible cast, wonderful songs and some truly witty dialogue makes this show as close to perfection as it gets. More polished than the previous incarnations of, we are treated to the current state of the world. If there was ever a time we needed a show as unashamedly joyous, life-affirming and pure as Amélie, it's now.
See it and be prepared to fall in love.
Amélie plays the Criterion Theatre until September 25th. Tickets are from https://www.criterion-theatre.co.uk/