Preview: Amélie the Musical

A musical stage adaptation of the celebrated film Amélie is touring the UK. Andy Murray talks to Audrey Brisson, the actor playing the title character, about its themes of connection and escapism  

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The 2001 French comedy Amélie was a big hit. Charting the circuitous romance between two shy, imaginative Parisian eccentrics, Amélie Poulain and Nino Quincampoix, it channelled the strong visual style of writer-director Jean-Pierre Jeunet for a broad audience. A stage musical version of the film launched in 2015, and after a Broadway run the show is now on a UK tour, which reaches Bradford and Manchester this summer.

Audrey Brisson, who takes on the lead role, knows the film well. “I saw it not long after it came out and loved it,” she says. “I’m a fan of Jeunet’s work so I’ve seen all of his films.

“When the conversation of me potentially joining the team of the Amélie musical came about, I watched it again just to remind myself.
I think it’s a beautiful film.”

The film, though, has a strong, near surreal sense of storytelling, using rapid-fire montages and other striking cinematic techniques. How does that translate?

“Well, there’s only so much one can replicate on stage,” Brisson says. “Our director, Michael Fentiman, uses the example of the moment in the film where Amélie melts into a puddle of water, and of course we can’t do that. But it’s about recreating a similar feel, so it’s never long, long scenes of people talking to each other for ages. We do snap from one moment to the next.”

A key device here is the casting of actors with musical experience so that the score is performed live from the stage, with each performer getting the opportunity to play at least one instrument.

Brisson says: “We have all these beautiful actor-musicians on stage with their instruments so there’s a constant sense of movement, changing from one scene to the next.”

The musical is all original and doesn’t use the film’s celebrated soundtrack, though it does nod towards it. “Our music has that similar feel, with lots of accordion and strings. I think it’s glorious, a feast for the ears.”

Amélie is a distinctive character with whom Brisson admits to feeling some sense of kinship. “Her struggle to connect with people, therefore her tendency to avoid having to be in too close proximity with them – yes, I definitely have a bit of that. I think Amélie is potentially a bit more positive – through denial, obviously – than I am. But yeah, there’s definitely a similar social awkwardness going on here.”

For Brisson, this idea of connecting to people is what Amélie is all about. “Amélie is struggling to connect with people so she’s helping other people who are also having a hard time connecting. She’s helping others rather than doing it for herself. It’s basically saying we’re all in this world where no one’s looking up from their phone and making connections with other people. We forget to look up and see that other people around us have the same vulnerabilities. It’s a visual, beautiful, simple moral: look up from your phone.”

The musical, like the film, offers escapism, but in a way it’s a message about escapism, too. “It is escapism but actually it’s also to remind yourself not to escape too much. You can escape into another world, as Amélie does constantly, but sometimes you need to stop escaping, face reality and look at life.”

Amélie the Musical dates include Bradford Alhambra (1-6 July) and Manchester Opera House (6- 10 August)

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