King’s Theatre, Edinburgh
Happiness is at a premium for the eponymous heroine of this joyous musical adaptation of Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s off-kilter turn of the century rom-com. For Amelie, alas, that happiness is other people’s, brought about by her surreptitious manipulations of the world she keeps her distance from in her solitary room and the café she waitresses in. When she stumbles on kindred spirit Nino and his collection of torn-up photo-booth images, even her desire to do as much good for the world as Princess Diana comes second to the merry dance she leads him on in a 1997 disconnecting nicely towards its fin de siècle endgame.
The result in Michael Fentiman’s production is a gloriously European hipster musical, driven by a sixteen-strong cast of actor-musicians playing a set of baroque chamber pop show-tunes seemingly sired by some impeccably eccentric busking ensemble. With a book by Craig Lucas and lyrics by Nathan Tysen, the show’s musical pulse actually comes from composer Danielle Messe of American band Hem, whose fusion of low-key roots music with classicist stylings was way ahead of the curve.
This is played out on designer Madeleine Girling’s ravishing impressionistic reimagining of an unreconstructed Paris, awash with vintage iconography as Audrey Brisson’s Amelie attempts to play god. As she make-believes herself to be a people's princess helping the lost and needy, the show also features the best Elton John pastiche you're likely to witness this side of current big-screen John bio-pic Rocket Man, with all the flamboyant largesse that implies.
Brisson is a vivid and vivacious presence in this production originally seen at the Newbury-based Watermill Theatre, and now out on tour care of a consortium that includes the ever-enterprising Selladoor company. Her interplay with the show’s fractured community of kooks, and especially with Danny Mac’s Nino, is a delight, right up to the show’s inevitable but still inspirational final moments.
Lost souls in need of having their faith restored in the power of love to transcend pretty much everything could do worse than make a date of it. For anyone else besides, it's still a dream come true.
The Herald, June 25th 2019