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Posts Tagged ‘Audrey Brisson’

This musical, based on the 2001 French romantic comedy film, had a short run on Broadway two years ago and has now been reworked for a UK tour starting at the Watermill in Newbury. It’s hard to imagine a less suitable show for Broadway or a more suitable one for the Watermill. It’s a delight.

We follow Amelie from her childhood, home schooled, losing her mother in a tragic accident – crushed by a man committing suicide by jumping off Notre-Dame! – eventually leaving home at 18 to work in a Paris cafe, a place as eccentric as her home. She’s very much in her own world, living her fantasies as well as her life. Her most significant fantasy happens when Princess Diana dies, which takes us to Elton John at the funeral (a superb turn by Cadlan McCarthy)!

She devotes her life to schemes to improves the lives of others, including reuniting someone with their childhood memorabilia, persuading her father to fulfil his ambition to travel the world (inspired by the travels of his garden gnome, containing the ashes of his wife!), matchmaking between a co-worker and a customer and preventing the ill-treatment of a greengrocer’s assistant, whilst the artist she has befriended sets her off in the pursuit of love, on a trail involving photo booths.

Daniel Messe’s score is gorgeous, with a real French feel. Craig Lucas’ book and Messe and Nathan Tysen’s lyrics tell the quintessentially French story of love, kindness and loneliness beautifully. Madeleine Girling’s design uses wrought iron and faded posters to conjure up Paris, with Amelie’s charming apartment on a second level.

The Watermill is the home of actor-musician shows and I’ve seen many there, but the musical standards for this one are sky high. It’s a terrific ensemble of twelve, led by Audrey Brisson’s outstanding Amelie. She has an other-worldly quality, wistful, bucketloads of charm and the purest of voices. Michael Fentiman’s staging is completely in tune with the material.

One of the best musicals we’ve ever seen at the Watermill, and that’s a big compliment, one of the best new musicals for a while and a must-see for any lover of musical theatre.

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If Walt Disney hadn’t adapted this late nineteenth century Italian novel by Carlo Collodi for his second full-length animated film just before the Second World War, it would probably never have become the iconic tale it has, told around the world in many forms and languages. Here we are almost eighty years later seeing a stage adaptation at the National Theatre, and what a treat it proves to be.

The tale struck me as darker (the hand of playwright Dennis Kelly?) and more moralistic than I remembered, with a strong emphasis on the importance of values and truth. In learning these en route from being a puppet to being a boy, Pinocchio encounters a trio of baddies – a sly trickster Fox, puppet-master Stromboli and fairground-master The Coachman. These are juxtaposed with his loving dad, puppet-maker Geppetto, and the Blue Fairy, who adds that touch of magic.

John Tiffany’s staging doesn’t rely on technology, as much modern theatre does, but it is utterly charming and completely magical. Bob Crowley provides a simple, appropriately wooden design of benches, trees and ladders until we move to the puppet theatre’s proscenium and the fairground’s lights. The underwater scene is an understated marvel. Puppets are used for some of the main characters (except the puppet Pinocchio himself!) with Geppetto, Stromboli and the Coachman twice life size, with three handlers as well as the actor in identical dress; this gives the production a somewhat surreal quality and a period feel.

Tiffany’s regular movement collaborator Steven Hoggett creates an athletic child-like world. and the illusions by Jamie Harrison (whose work so impressed me at the Harry Potter plays recently) are brilliant (though there was a minor nose malfunction on the night I went!). Martin Lowe provides a wonderful score to supplement the film’s original five songs and inspired by its incidental music and Italian and Alpine folk music, including the recurrent standard When You Wish Upon a Star, which sounds suitably lush with a 15-piece orchestra under Tom Brady in the pit.

Mark Hadfield’s Geppetto is very moving (was that a real tear I saw at the end?) and Joe Idris-Roberts is an absolute delight as a very malleable Pinocchio. All three baddies deliver the required badness – David Langham’s Fox, Gershwyn Eustache Jnr as Stromboli and David Kirkbride as The Coachman. Audrey Brisson makes Pinocchio’s conscience Jiminy Cricket a lovely companion and Annette McLaughlin is every bit the fairy of your imagination.

Younger kids might be a bit scared, but older ones will love it’s darkness and adults it’s timeless charm and glorious theatricality. One of the best Christmas shows at the National, adding to its impressive seasonal track record.

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I have to confess that I’ve never seen the iconic 1957 Oscar-winning Fellini film on which this is based, but it seems to lend itself to adaptation as a musical, and director Sally Cookson weaves the same homespun lo-tech magic she did with Jane Eyre and Peter Pan at the NT.

Gelsomina is ‘sold’ by her mother to strongman street performer Zampano, as her sister Rosa, who died in his care, had been just one year before. She becomes his assistant, drumming up an audience and passing around the hat. He’s a bit of a bully and when they join a circus, clown Il Matto taunts and torments him, ultimately leading to a tragic outcome. Gelsomina eventually breaks free, when Zampano realises what she really means to him.

It’s a simple tale and it gets a simple but delightful production in Cookson’s Kneehighesque style. Mike Akers has adapted it for the stage (he’s called ‘Writer in the Room’ because he writes it during rehearsals, with everyone involved contributing) and Benji Bower has added some excellent music. Katie Sykes’ design has a great sense of period, place and character.

Audrey Brisson, so good in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, is delightful as Gelsomina, her voice shining in a couple of songs.  Stuart Goodwin is excellent as Zampano, with great presence and truly believable rage. Bart Soroczynski’s Il Matto is a contrastingly playful character, with genuinely good circus skills.

It’s an odd show for The Other Palace, it might feel more at home at Southwark Playhouse or BAC, but it sits well in the space and I was glad I caught it.

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I’ve always liked the work of artist Marc Chagall, the subject of this play, but that turned into a love affair when I visited the Musee Marc Chagall in Nice eighteen months ago. Daniel Jamieson’s play is a beautiful, captivating biographical homage to him and his first wife Bella.

Chagall was born in Vitebsk, then Russia, now Belarus, to a Lithuanian Jewish family. He fell in love with Bella aged 22, just before he left for his first spell of four years in Paris, and this is where the story begins. He returned just before the outbreak of the First World War and they marry and begin a turbulent ride through the war, when he works in the war office, the Russian revolution and the pogroms, while he is running an art college in his home town, before they escape to France via Lithuania and Germany. They’re on the move again seventeen years later, escaping from occupied France to the US, where Bella dies and our play ends.

Jamieson’s play captures the child-like charm of the couple in a clear narrative (you always get a clearer narrative from a playwright experienced in writing for children!) to which is added feather-like movement by director / co-choreographer Emma Rice and co-choreographer Etta Murfitt and the most delightful original music by Ian Ross. It’s all set on an extraordinary wooden construction designed by Sophia Clist that they climb over and occupy various parts of. The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is the most perfect venue, with its candlelight adding more warmth to that already generated by the words, music and performance.  Marc Antolin and Audrey Brisson are each terrific, and wonderful together; their singing is gorgeous. The composer and fellow-musician James Gow accompany and occasionally add vocals.

Emma Rice’s final production as Kneehigh AD, now in her new home, was a delight from beginning to end; another fine night in the SWP.

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This macabre tale of a man who inadvertently sells his daughter to the devil (and her subsequent journey) is a welcome return to form for Kneehigh after four disappointments in a row.

The starting point is a faustian pact (with a touch of Robert Johnson’s crossroads brought to the fore by the blues soundtrack) where the devil visits a poor farmer and offers him fancy clothes and bling in exchange for everything in his back yard. He makes the exchange enthusiastically, not realising his daughter is in the back yard. After the devil makes her father chop off her hands, she escapes and goes feral until found by a prince who falls in love and whisks her away, but the devil hasn’t finished yet; he creates a war to send the prince (now king) to and fakes correspondence between him and his mother which effectively sends the girl back into the wilderness.

It took too long (45 minutes) to take off, though in all fairness my companion didn’t agree, so maybe it’s just my impatience (if a book doesn’t grab me in 100 pages, I put it down!), but from the point at which she goes feral I was captivated. There’s a terrific blues inspired score from Stu Barker with enough songs to qualify as a musical, though in style it’s a play with music. The girl is played at different ages / stages by three actresses and Etta Murfitt’s choreography has them moving brilliantly in unison. The usual Kneehigh inventiveness is here (though we’ve seen most of it before now) and Bill Mitchell’s design around a central tree is highly effective.

The acting honours belong to Stuart Goodwin. who is terrific as both dad and prince / king; the latter a superb comic creation in kilt with a spring in his step. The three girls / women – Audrey Brisson, Patrycja Kujawska and Eva Magyar – are all excellent and Stuart McLoughlin’s devil is suitably smarmily satanic.

I still think it would be great to see Kneehigh stretch themselves again beyond gothic fairy tales like they did with their film adaptations of Brief Encounter and A Matter of Life & Death and Shakespeare’s Cymbeline, but for now it’s ‘welcome back’ (and an evening free of men in Y-fronts and vests at last!).

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