We booked to see Amélie very spontaneously about a week ago, knowing very little about it, and… well. It was a journey.
The synopsis for Amélie is somewhat vague and very short, describing simply that she is a French girl who isolates herself but orchestrates small acts of kindness; she then has a chance to fall in love and she has to change how she would normally act. For me, it sounded perfect – I love to see introverted characters begin to thrive across the story of a show, and I’m a sucker for a romance.
I really wanted to love it. The fact that the cast are also the orchestra is amazing, and every single one of them is so incredibly talented. The music is beautiful, and the choreography that goes with it; the movement whilst they play and how it intertwines with the changing of the sets, it has everything within it to be amazing. For me, it was the story and its pacing that stopped me from loving it.
This musical version of Amélie is based on the film, which I admit that I haven’t seen (can you tell by my reliance on the tiny synopsis?). My issue with it came with the pace – the first half seemed to take a very long time to cover a very short period of time, whereas the second half covered a much bigger chunk of time at a much quicker speed. The romance was barely built throughout before it peaked in the space of about ten minutes at the end, meaning I had very little connection to the characters and I wasn’t overly bothered by their story. The director (Mike Fentiman) says in the programme that the show is a “simple, gentle, moving exploration of human loneliness and isolation”, and whilst I see that such a slow-moving romance should show this, the end felt so rushed that I feel like it stops this from being what the audience takes away from it.
The set is brilliantly done – most, if not all, the shows I’ve seen in the last few years have had very simple sets which then have basic sets revealed in them, or lighting/projections mostly used to represent the scenes throughout (see my review of The Color Purple ), so this was very different for us, but I really liked it. The set is highly elaborate, mostly used as a train station but elements are moved by the cast throughout to use them differently; the pianos have sets hidden within and the photobooth doubles as a door when rotated. Again, the choreography was so clever in moving pieces like the photobooth and I did really enjoy that!
The final element that I didn’t really get on with was the blurred lines between Amélie’s reality and her daydreams, letters and (slight spoilers) the sort-of hallucinations of one of the other characters. I’m fairly sure these lines are blurry on purpose, but Elton John and a gnome dressed as a samba dancer turning up at random points didn’t necessarily confuse me, but it almost took the tone of the show to a different place quite suddenly; it became more slap-stick like, and I found it quite hard to get into the story due to this constant movement.
It was a genuine shame for me that I found the pace so difficult – maybe it’s the fact that I haven’t seen the film, or maybe I just don’t have the same appreciation for the way this show is constructed that others might have. The music and choreo was so good and every member of the cast is extremely talented (they can sing, dance, act AND play instruments – often doing several of those things simultaneously) so I did enjoy it, but it just wasn’t the show, the story for me.