Monthly Archives: June 2021

AMELIE. Criterion, W1

AMELIORATING PARISIAN LIVES ONE PUPPET AT A TIME

      It could hardly be calculated more finely to fulfil every post-lockdown need:   a cast of sixteen nimble actor-musician-singers visibly high on the joy of performing again (Audrey Brisson concludes the evening by thanking our scattered selves for coming, and the front of house and management for “keeping the faith”.)   Add a fabulously romantic Paris metro-and-cafe set to comfort us for lack of travel, and an almost too-sweetly engaging heroine in an optimistic, yet totally barmy, story of eccentric good deeds with a vaguely naughty hinterland. 

        I have to admit I hated the film – apparently France’s most successful ever – because its fearful winsomeness ; Amelie’s desire to emulate Diana after her sad sudden death and be like her a universal “godmother to the unloved” left me callously cold, much in the manner of the current Sussex claim to be saving the world by being performatively, weaponisedly  “compassionate”.  

     Yet the music,  the big choruses and the goodnatured showbiz of elegant ensemble scene-changes in Michael Fentiman’s production somehow make the tale of the sweetnatured waitress (who interferes in everyone’s life while blind to her own needs) genuinely work.   In the deep cool of the Criterion, with unwontedly good legroom and your ice cream (for now) brought to your seat in the interval,  it is possible to relax into this unbelievable nonsense and the world of Madeleine Girling’s nostalgically cunning design. 

       Much is owed to Audrey Brisson too: big-eyed and tiny-framed,  charming despite  the character’s unfashionable frumpy skirt and boots and flick-up bobbed hair,  I fell for her pretty fast, especially when she clambered over the pianos like a child and then elegantly flew ten feet up to her tiny bedsit behind the station clock, with a one-hand grip on the fringed lampshade.  A sort of fairy, which I suppose is the point.  But credit also to the ensemble, and to Chris Jared as the weird photobooth-collector she admires, whose stolid bearded presence is a pleasant counterweight to Amelie’s feyness.  They make us wait about two minutes for the final kiss even when he’s joined her behind the clock, and the young around me were sighing into their masks:  it is, after all, the story of a young working woman living alone and feeling isolated (yet benevolent) and it will touch many frayed Covid-era nerves.   

         And yes, the lollipop moments are a joy.  The first puppet, toddler Amelie being lectured on Zeno’s paradox (this,remember, is based on a French arty-pop film) is good,  but the giant horror-movie walking figs and the hedonistic globetrotting enormous garden gnome are even better.  So is the fantasy,  epically unhealthy but somehow irresistible,  in which Amelie dreams that she is being memorialized like Diana.  The Elton John pastiche alone is worth the night out.  So yes, I succumbed.  Still never watching the film again though.   

Box office :  Criterion-theatre.co.Uk.     to 25 sept

rating. 4.

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A MIDSUMMER NIGHT’S DREAM Shakespeare’s Globe SE 1

PINK SATIN AND A  FAIRY PINATA FOR A PIMMS-Y NIGHT OUT

        Face it, this play’s a rom-com,  a lark,  a happy pretty way to blame the fickleness of young love on petulant fairies.  It can be treated more solemnly, playing up the harshness of the Athenian court;  or  Helena, thinking herself mocked,  can rise to something near tragedy;   Oberon can be made maliciously, controllingly and humiliatingly  sexist or – in the glorious Bridge production – cheekily flipped to become the victim of the trick himself.  

     But no need for any of that:  perfectly valid to capitalize on the Globe’s natural festival jollity,  festoon the forest with hippie-morris-clown trees of rags in every colour plus neon,  and accompany it with a riotous brass ensemble,  taking care to get them rousing up the audience beforehand with cries of “We’re back!”  and enforced synchro-clapping rhythm exercises.  Joyful it was, indeed,  so that by the time the beginners are wheeled on in a big delivery box (very topical) we’re all up for a couple of hours of hard-sitting fun (no cushions owing to Covid, take your own).

       The costumes from this 2019 production return exuberant (though the young lovers are in monochrome, with weird lopsided semi-ruffs, Demetrius looking as if recently assaulted by a swan).  Mostly it’s all delightfully over the top and down the other side, sartorially speaking:  a pink-satin Duke, Peter Quince in sparkly high boots,  Bottom in shiny leopardprint leggings even before she is transformed into a giant pinata donkey  (Sophie Russell is terrific,  fearlessly authoritative).    The rude-mechanicals are great fun altogether, not least in casting an audience member into their number and forcing him onto a gold exercise-bike.  Puck is multiple, clearly being a team of intern-pucks dashing around in T-shirts.   Titania, her flowery bed a giant wheelie-bin,  is crinolined and feathered;   Oberon in his greenish hair and gold aureole surprisingly stately.  Those two costumes made me realize that what I really want in life is this play done – as a musical – with Dolly Parton and Elton John as the fairy monarchs. 

         But for now,  Sean Holmes’  cheerful romp will do to kick off a season which, if theatres know what they’re doing,  will major on merriment not ‘issues’.   Peter Bourke’s Oberon is the one who sticks in my mind: he catches some real Shakespearian nobility  in his reproof of Puck’s mistake and in his final reconciliation.    I’m all for exuberant youth,  but sometimes an old-stager beautifully spoken and poised, is a treat.  Looking him up , I learn that fifty years ago Bourke was Puck himself at drama school.  He has a memoir about to be published. Which I am searching out now.      

box office  www.shakespearesglobe.com  to  30 October   

    in rep with As You Like it – same company

 There are also some midnight matinees starting at 1159pm… for you party people…

rating four  midsummery mice    

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