Jennifer Thompson interviews Audrey Brisson who stars in the titular role of Amélie The Musical. They chat about short rehearsal processes and enduring audience support.
2001’s rom-com, Amélie Afollows the titular character on her mission to spread happiness. The film, directed by Jean-Pierre Jeunet, received a great critical reception when it was released and was nominated for five academy awards. In 2017, a musical adaptation of the film hit The Great White Way, featuring Hamilton alumni Phillipa Soo in the title role for a two-month run. The show is now on a UK tour, with French-Canadian actress Audrey Brisson as Amelie and ex-soap star Danny Mac as Nino.
I sat down with Brisson to talk about what the show means to her, how she’s finding touring and the challenges of bringing such a well-loved movie to the stage. Describing the show in her own words she tells me: “Amelie is a story of a young girl who struggles to connect to people around her so she just creates a world of imagination. She likes to have a step away from the rest of the world and to view it. She likes to meddle in other people’s lives to try and force them to connect with other people.” When reflecting on the character of Amelie herself, Brisson states that her favourite thing about playing her was her unconventional honesty explaining: “I’m talking about the honesty of the reality if you know what I mean. It’s not a fairy tale… She’s not portrayed or made to look perfect and beautiful; she is a complex human being as we all are. She reminds us all of ourselves a little bit (in a way).”
Brisson says the biggest challenge of putting the production together was not trying to recreate the film as the initial adaptation had already been done by the Broadway team, but instead was the “very, very short rehearsal process.” She points out that another challenge was making the Broadway material work for the UK team.
“Barnaby Race, the music arranger worked on the music heavily to try and bring it back to a European-ness and closer to the quirkiness of the film. Changing the tempo, the key signature of the music, and the fact we have actual musicians on the stage – it brought that French-ness. We have two accordions, two cellos, two violins, two pianos – ooh it’s all in twos! That was definitely a thing and also Michael Fenton the director brought back some scenes that were not in the American Broadway production but were in the film to try and bring it closer to its original meaning (I guess).”
The actor-musicians are one of Brisson’s favourite things in this production, explaining that: “my favourite moments vary depending on how I feel.” She describes the beauty of her current favourite moment:
“There’s a bit where Amelie tries to connect with Nino by giving him the book back and fails and she finds herself by the piano – it’s the song ‘Halfway’ – she talks about the things her mother taught her, that ultimately you’ll always be halfway to where your goal is, and you’ll always be by yourself, and you’ll never be able to connect with anything. I like that moment, it’s one of the first moments that you see Amelie in not quite despair but facing the reality of her messed up view of the world (I guess) and how she’s forced to face it and lift the veil of denial. It’s a nice moment for me to just sit by the piano and have all the beautiful actor-musicians standing in support behind – it’s a moment I can breathe and calm down.”
The tour began at the Watermill Theatre, Newbury in April with stops in Manchester, Liverpool and many more cities still to come, with Brisson saying: “there’s so many places, and so many that I’ve never been to before, so it’s quite exciting to discover new ones.” As well as being able to discover new places whilst touring, she has enjoyed seeing how audiences in different cities react to the show: “The audiences haven’t been as full as we were all hoping, however they’ve always been extremely generous and at the end of every week people come more and more so it shows there’s word of mouth happening… The other thing that’s great is that every venue, the audiences all have a slightly different perspective of the show or a different way of reacting to it. It’s nice because it kind of forces us to discover the piece in a new way – things you didn’t think were funny are funny in one city and not so funny in the next, so it keeps us on our toes.”
Despite the movie being almost twenty years old, Brisson feels the message is still just as relevant today: “Our version is set at the same time as the film, before mobile phones and everything, but it’s still so relevant to today with the fact people don’t connect even though they have so many opportunities to talk to one another i.e. with phones or texts, message, or emails – it’s so accessible yet so hard to reach. I like that… I like the complexities of her as a character and the other characters in the show. The complexities of the stories within themselves are also simple.”
Brisson continues along the same theme, telling me: “We all have that need and desire to connect with one another, in cities where we are so jammed up together and yet we can feel quite lonely, because God forbid you would ever smile at the person that you were next to on the train. I hope that this story is a nice reminder that you should look up and smile at the person on the train next you, they won’t bite you, and actually they’re probably in a similar situation to you, just wanting to be seen and wanting to be acknowledged.”
Be sure to keep an eye out for Amelie in a city near you for: “An evening of glorious music, beautiful set, fantastic actor-musicians and a story that will affect everyone.”
Amelie is touring until 19 October and will be at the Bristol Old Vic from 16 July. For more information and tickets, visit the official website.