Amélie The Musical – King’s Theatre, Edinburgh

Book: Craig Lucas

Music: Danie Messé

Lyrics: Nathan Tysen & Daniel Messé

The awkward daughter of a neurotic and a germophobe (we’ve all been there), Amélie is as socially fragile as she is dedicated to helping others. In the aftermath of Princess Diana’s death, Amélie has a revelation – to help flicker the light of the world through minuscule, almost invisible acts of kindness which spiral into deliciously absurd results. Now, if only she could find a way to have that adventure in her own life.

Audrey Tautou’s performance in the cinematic release acquired universal praise. Audrey Brisson’s Améliehas the base characteristics, but she has an edge, a bite to her. In part, this is mostly due to the music elements, Brisson’s voice an intensely emotive one. As a recluse, we adore her, want to keep her safe, but know her determination and creativity will keep her out of (too much) trouble.

For as little time as Danny Mac and Brisson spend on stage together, they generate a remarkable amount of chemistry. Nico, a character he brings life to when able, is woefully underutilised given Mac’s impressive vocals and quaint charm.

This is how you adapt a cinematic masterpiece. This is how you encourage a fresh basis for fans, lovers and admirers of the theatre. Sculpting a sublime stroll through the whimsical world of Amélie the Musical, Craig Lucas’ book carefully adapts Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s 2001 award-winning French movie. Expanding the surrealist imagery, modern fairy-tale narrative and mise-en-scène of a timeless France for the theatre. It’s a rare, triumphant feat in knowing which parts of the film could be grander onstage and which components to leave behind.

Following from the original Broadway outing, there was an injection of ‘Frenchness’ by director Fentiman in the composition of the production. For the film, there’s a dusty cloud of bon-bon sweetness to its French identity. The stage version captures the je ne sais quoi, striking a timeless Gallic style of folk music in Daniel Messe’s score. There’s a sublime use of rough beats, which from the outset pump blood around the body, letting us know that the score and lyrics for Amélie maybe its mightiest asset.

It isn’t all champagne and caviar, through all the madness, the surrealist nature of Amélie does take the time to breathe, both to success and its only let-down. We find tender moments of delight, touching scenes which round off characters, provide some space to gather ourselves. The closing act feels drawn out, by around ten minutes. The story is spun, our character’s content. Finally, Amelie is to have her deserving moment, but it doesn’t arrive when it ought. We have our emotions of tenter hooks, only to wait a little longer.

Amélie the Musical is a contemporary fairy-tale, the genre in which we find aspects of imagination, the fantastic and enchantment through our characters absurdist disconnection with reality. We have malevolent figs, goldish companions and a charmingly crafted young Amélie puppet. A garden gnome, travelling the world and kind enough to send postcards. They all represent something, insecurities and failure to move on through grief. Madeleine Girling’s design takes note of Jeunet and Laurant’s 2001 aesthetic, magnifying it for the stage. From the moment we enter the theatre, the cast-iron greens peer out from the thick nicotine-tinted lighting. It’s a visual splendour of theatre.

It is these moments, these heightened fantastical scenes which make Amélie a treasure for the musical theatre collection. Its illusionary lighting, coy fairy-tale charm and folk-style composition set it apart from the rag-tag of Jukebox and ever replaying musicals. So, take advice from Amélie, leave the confines of boredom, dive into imagination and treat yourself to something magical.

Review originally published for Reviews Hub: https://www.thereviewshub.com/amelie-the-musical-kings-theatre-edinburgh/

Production Touring: http://ameliethemusical.com/

Image contribution: Pamela Reith

Women in Parliament – Lauriston Hall

Original Play – Aristophanes

New Translation by Andrew Wilson

Stage Director and Design by Michael Scott

Tickets available for June 27th and 28th from Usher Hall at: http://www.usherhall.co.uk/whats-on/aristophanes-women-parliament

In translating, an impressive feat, to begin with, Andrew Wilson does an exceptional job in capturing the original structure, satire and levity of Aristophanes Ecclesiazusae or Women in Parliament. It has all the comforts of ancient Greece; hookers, cross-dressing and poo, but it has a distinct Lothians stamp of lively dance, song and self-depreciation.

Athens of the North, Edinburgh to you and I. She shares a tremendous amount with her sister to the South, they both value a feast, a tremendous sense of culture and a responsibility towards democracy, right? Well, far from it really. Time moves forward, we evolve, we advance – but politics roughly remains the same. An assortment of privilege, wealth and lacking in diversity. Aristophanes wrote a series of plays in which the foolishness of men, was highlighted by women. He wasn’t a revolutionary feminist, however. Instead, the women are merely a way to highlight the absurdity of government, how they ‘argue solutions but never come to conclusion’.

Pictured: Hazel Eadie

If for a second you suspect this to have a hidden agenda, with a profound political message and commentary – then all the power to you. Women in Parliament, in keeping with its ancient counterpart, revels in the ludicrous nature of its construction. It isn’t pushing a ‘feminist’ agenda but instead firing pointed harpoons at the current states of government. No one is safe. Not Tory, nor Liberal, Nor defenceless Jeremy Corbyn.

While in the North, it seems fitting to amend the text with Scots dialect and reference. Outside of the Political, Wilson’s translation achieves some of its distinct humour through Aristophanes second favourite pastime after sex – defecating. Oh yes, scatological witticism is rife in the Streets of Athens this evening, so please watch your footing. For those unfamiliar, you will need a slight adjustment time to the toilet humour, but once consigning yourself to the loose bowels of Blepyrus (Mike Towers) you’ll be sure to snigger along.

He, along with Chris Allan, brings a sense of false patriarchal grandeur to the proceedings. Allan, in particular, holds the constant stage presence this evening. Standing against this – leading a procession of marching women determined to undermine the Men of government, who were clearly doing such an exceptional job, are Prazxagora (Angela Estrada) and her crew of disgruntled, beard-clad women.

Pictured: Angela Estrada

Estrada, arguably our lead turns a stellar performance with what is an undoubtedly complex script. While others may stumble and fade, she keeps her pacing and level of authority. She has a way with words which draws our ear immediately, illustrating parallels with other ‘silver-tongued’ world leaders.

Mainly on the fault of Aristophanes (easier to blame the centuries deceased) than Wilson, classical texts traditionally have an altogether different style of pacing. Any accustomed to the likes of Lysistrata will recognise the structure, short finale and bloated early scenes. Scott, along with the cast, seems to anticipate this – making jabs at the audiences snoozing’s and interacting to keep their attention.

Design in mind, Michael Scott’s thrust style staging places the action in the centre of Lauriston Hall. We’re effectively on the back benches observing the baboons dance before us. A backdrop, a tart’s boudoir pink splashed across some doors and windows make for comical entrances, exits and scene change signage. This, along with Gordon Hughes’ lighting design makes for an intense richness from this evening’s performance. Never has a brothel looked quite as sinisterly appealing, or so we are informed…Emily Nash and Gordon Horne doing their best to both entice and repulse us.

Pictured: Colin Povey and Charlie Munro

With such a large venue, quite often our eyes drift to something happening far across the stage. The inclusion of slaves David Cree, Robert Seaton and Alasdair Watson make for slapstick scene changes, but when their buffoon antics occur several feet from where our attention should be focusing, it’s quite distracting.

So, no need to take a visit to ancient Greece, we seem to be living it. Athens of the North’s presentation of Women in Parliament is a delightful homage to Aristophanes’ original, injecting its own Scottish heritage through rhyming verse. It has issues with pacing, a few wayward performances and complexity in a narrative which will be lost on many, but it’s an appealing text, rich in satire and playfulness. A production worthy of support, a delicate blend of classical literature and toilet jokes – what’s not to love?

Runs until June 28th, tickets available from Usher Hall at: http://www.usherhall.co.uk/whats-on/aristophanes-women-parliament

Downs With Love – Assembly Roxy

Written by Suzanne Loftus

Photo Credit to Alan Peebles

Downs With Love is a frank, open conversation about the way we look at the capabilities, emotions and safeguarding of those with Down’s Syndrome; specifically, in the contexts of relationships. Abi Brydon plays a young woman named Beth. Beth is vivacious, independent and has intense happiness for life most of us would envy. Yet, she cannot even make a cup of tea without being asked: “Can you do that yourself?”

Her new support worker Tracy (Katy Milne) encourages Beth to venture outside more. Though fully capable of catering to her own day-to-day needs, Beth finds it challenging to engage in a world which has previously shown nothing but bullying and ridicule. On an outing to the pub, Beth makes a passing comment of a ‘special someone’ – a musician called Mark. She has a crush, yet so do Mark and Tracy. The two begin a relationship – hiding it from Beth – stating that while uncomfortable, it’s the best thing for her.

Following their successful Fringe run in 2017, Cutting Edge Theatre was awarded a People’s Project grant.This not only allowed for a touring production, but has also given then the opportunity of a wider audience and the chance to connect further with those living with learning disabilities. Suzanne Lofthus’s script is less designed to push the audience’s acceptance of Down’s and more concerned about questions of love, relationships and what we consider ‘acceptable’.

Brydon holds her own while onstage, with her performance given the respect deserving of a passionate performer. She captures the frustrations we all feel when we’re doubted, made to feel we aren’t capable of achieving anything. Working with writer and director Lofthus, she and Brydon base the character of Beth on many of Brydon’s own experiences growing up with Down’s Syndrome. Downs With Love documents the bullying, disappointments and fight to be acknowledged that Brydon herself has faced. Her closing monologue, which the entire production has been building towards, is a sublime, hard-hitting speech that encourages the audience to confront their own apprehensions around people like her.

Brydon wants to communicate her tires and frustrations with the odd glances and cruel words. More though, she addresses the issue of love and disability, an issue which causes unease in people. That there is no reason for her not to seek love and connection. One question she challenges us with is whether would we feel uncomfortable if someone with Down’s was to date someone without the condition? It’s a question Stephen Arthur’s character Mark has put to him, handling the subject in an admirable, if glossed over, manner.

Serving as the audience’s representative, so to speak, Milne and Arthur together offer natural and realistic individuals. Their decisions to not speak with Beth upfront, to pander to her emotions and frequently question Beth’s capabilities feel uncomfortably familiar. It’s an entirely human response to act overbearing when we don’t fully understand someone.

The choreography, while not entirely necessary, serves a clear theme of repetition and schedule. Scenes are dedicated to Beth’s insistence on routine; bathing, brushing her teeth, going to college, which all indicate a passage of time in the production. Gradually, the group movements evolve as Katie and Mark begin to grow closer, flirting and touching. Here movement plays a role, communicating the isolation Beth is reliving as the pair focus on themselves and not her.

Anyone with relatives or friends who have Down’s Syndrome will recognise the creativity in Downs With Love. A tremendous amount of feeling has been put into this production, by Brydon herself more than anyone. It wears its heart on its sleeve, taking chances but refraining from pushing its audience too far into uneasiness. An emotional piece, Downs With Love rightfully deserves its funding to reach a wider audience

Review originally published for Wee Review https://theweereview.com/review/downs-with-love/

Production touring: http://cuttingedgetheatre.co.uk/portfolio/downs-with-love/