Review: Amélie the Musical, Bristol Old Vic

A masterfully crafted piece of storytelling, Amélie the Musical’s characters are vividly and visually crafted through the unusually detailed descriptions in Nathan Tysen and Daniel Messé’s lyrics, and all members of the sixteen-strong cast embody them joyously. Although the title hones our attention on the singular mysterious introvert Amélie (Audrey Brisson), each member of this ensemble project engaging and quirky personas. 

The unexpected immediate plunge into the bustling atmosphere of the underground is only the start of this performance’s unpredictability. From fabulously dark humour, to bizarre famous faces and a set that just keeps on giving, the surprises unlock a childlike freedom of imagination. 

After the interval the plot cruises along a more conventional path to romance. Amélie begins as an independent female creative whose imaginative daydreams thrive in solitude, and becomes a shy girl looking for her other-half. Although less exciting, the performance still retains the endearingly unique characterisation and the requited love provides a satisfying ending. Amélie discovers the beauty of human connections, which she didn’t know she desired, but the question remains: in our modern world, are relationships are still so pivotal?

Plot aside, the musicality of this performance is inspiring. The orchestra is the beating heart of the show. Upgraded from the cockpit to the back of the stage in most current musicals, the orchestra in Amélie are more integral, instead consuming the whole stage space; they are characters and narrators as well as musicians. Throughout they maintain the fluidity, energy and aura of France. Each voice carries across the auditorium, conveys character and constructs beautiful harmonies while commendably maintaining their accents. 

Aurally, the performance is faultless, and the wondrous visuals of the designers are equally impressive. Madeleine Girling’s intricate set design (which is so special photographs are forbidden) and complementary colour-coordinated costumes are simply beautiful. The genius of the set, however, is its ability to alter, whether it’s sliding doors, scenery on wheels or stage-spanning projections. Dik Downey’s skilfully manipulated puppets are also delightfully incorporated, providing humour and perspective. 

There is a distinct lack of dance within this musical, but much better suited is the subtle ensemble movement. Tom Jackson-Greaves’ direction works to enhance the music rather than detract attention from it.

Every element of this performance is intricate and impressive, but it is the uniting of it all so perfectly which deserves and gains a standing ovation. Amélie overlaps many of the common traits of most musicals, yet somehow manages to seem refreshingly different. It is energised, exciting and enjoyable throughout, and we really warm to all characters.

Amélie is playing Bristol Old Vic until 20 July, and touring until October 2019. For more information and tickets, visit the Amélie the Musical website