Interview |Amélie the Musical |Michael Fentiman

Described by Whats On Stage as a ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ ‘perfect production’ Amélie the Musical arrives in Manchester next week after wowing audiences across the country as part of its first ever UK tour. Ahead of the shows West End transfer we caught up with Director Michael Fentiman to hear a little more about this magical musical.

How closely does Amélie The Musical resemble the film?

The film refused to behave like any film we may have recognised at the time. The approach to narrative is episodic. Favouring small vignettes, tiny films within a film, that group together to create a collage, a poetic mural that conjures a sense of loneliness and isolation in the bustling metropolis of 90s Paris.

The central character is largely passive. The first rule of script writing is usually that your protagonist is actively pursuing a change in the world they inhabit, Amélie is largely trying to avoid it.

It favours philosophical thought and ambiguity over conflict, sentimentality or explicit didact (usually the staple diet of your blockbuster filmmaker).

Somehow, by ignoring the rules of what constitutes enjoyable art, Amélie managed to appear in the late 90’s as a hugely enjoyable antidote to all the art that had started to believe there was a formula.

So if the film refused to behave like a film, in some respects Amélie must resist the pressure to behave like a traditional musical. It can’t be loud and brash, that would crush its fragile frame.  It can’t always yearn to please, that would fight the spirit of its aloof, Parisian routes. It can’t resort to slapstick laughs or lean on personal tragedy to illicit tears in ballads. It can’t open act 2 with a kick line or close act 1 with a burst of pyro or a tense cliff-hanger.

But what it can do is invite an audience into a simple, gentle, moving exploration of human loneliness and isolation and the earnest attempts to avoid it.

What were the main challenges in adapting it?

The challenge when adapting and staging a piece like Amélie is that the iconography of the film imprints itself so vividly in the mind of its audience, any stage production is in some respects competing with memories of the film. The music of Yann Tiersen, the cinematography of Bruno Delbonnel, Jean-Pierre Jeunet’s left of centre script and dreamlike direction. All smashing together to create something unique, oddly moving and vivid that lingers in the memory. Yet in order for it to satisfy in the theatre we must find a freedom to occupy its own space in our imaginations. It’s a tricky balance to get right.

Can you tell me a little about the music? Do what degree, if any, was it influenced by Yann Tiersen’s original soundtrack?

The music is hugely influence by the tone and feel of Yann Tiersen’s music. How could it not be? We have an amazing company of actor musicians, so we have incorporated into the score multiple violins, cello’s, accordions, pianos and flutes to create a very unique and moving sound.

How did you go about finding your Amélie? The similarities between Audrey Brisson and Audrey Tautou are striking, but we imagine there are some striking differences too…

As soon as I was asked to direct this production, Audrey was the first name I mentioned for the part. We have worked together before. Last time she played a hedgehog (obvious casting for Amélie!)  in a production of The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe I directed a few years back. She is an extraordinary performer. A rare thing. A classical trained singer, who once toured the world with Cirque de Soleil, a superbly charismatic comic and clown and a sensitive and intelligent actress. She is also a fluent French speaker!

How have you created Paris on stage?

It was impossible to fully realise Paris onstage. So we have tried to capture a smell of Paris so that the audience can fill in the gaps. Are location for the set is one of the iconic Metro stations featured in the film, but from there we are whisked all around the city with simple props, beautiful music, brilliant acting… and a bit of imagination.

What is the enduring appeal of this story?

At a time where we are increasingly feeling at a distance from each other, and to some degree, from the world we inhabit, Amélie is a Musical that seeks connections. Kind connections, that close down distances and make us feel like we are able to look up, smile and reach out to the strange and the stranger.

Amélie is on at the Manchester Opera House from Tuesday 6th until Saturday 10th August tickets available here.

 

Letter To Boddah

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Reviewed by Matt Forrest

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

In the song Hey, Hey, My My (Out of the Blue) Godfather of grunge Neil Young muses the statement: “It’s better to burn out, than to fade away”.  Sadly, this was a question posed in Kurt Cobain’s suicide letter, tragically titled Letter to Boddah.

Writer Sarah Nelson has used this desperately heart-breaking event as the inspiration behind her play, also titled Letter to Boddah. Set entirely in the disabled toilet of a Tesco store, we find childhood friends Billy (Sam Glen) and Neil (Jordan Reece): the pair are dressed in full military combats, armed to the teeth and carrying a ruck sack packed full of explosives ready to blow up the supermarket, its customers, and if necessary themselves.  What has brought these two to this point? Is there any going back for the pair?

Nelson has written a pitch-black comedy drama which explores themes of friendship, grief, domestic abuse and lost potential. Taking a setting more associated with that of a British ‘sitcom’, we are treated to some razor-sharp one-liners and darkly comedic dialogue, mixed with moments of heartbreak, as well as a few twists that will have you on the edge of your seat.

Both leads are excellent. Sam Glen puts in an intense, gut-wrenching turn as grief-stricken Billy, whilst Jordan Reece plays Neil to perfection, striking the right balance between comedy sidekick and unhinged psychopath.  The chemistry between the two is outstanding and fully believable, which makes their actions seem all the more desperate. The two manage to captivate and entirely hold your attention throughout.

This is an important production that addresses issues of male depression and suicide, as well as containing strong political themes of globalisation, and commentary on a lost generation without a voice. Powerful, dark, shocking and packed full of humour, with a finale filled with tension. This is an outstanding piece of work that deserves to be seen by as many people as possible, and on the strength of the quality on display tonight, will surely find an audience.

Letter to Boddha is on at the Edinburgh Fringe throughout August at C CUBED (Venue 50) daily at 1:15pm tickets available here.

 

Henry V

Reviewed by Nikki Cotter

Opening Night verdict ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Petty political point-scoring, a none democratically elected leader making decisions shaping the future of our nation, decisions driven by a lust for power…sound familiar? Nope this isn’t a political commentary of the UK right now but Shakespeare’s Henry V.

Director Loveday Ingram places the production amidst the current political climate, (or should that be crisis?) St George’s crosses fly high as soldiers swill down booze while chants of ‘England ’til I die’ ring out from the yellow vests.

Shakespeare’s France very much represents the EU with the cast dressed in familiar vibrant blue as yellow starts billow in the breeze.

It may be 2019 but Henry V feels more pertinent now than ever before as Shakespeare’s social and political observations continue to ring true, centuries after they were first penned.

Joseph Millson takes on the role of the heroic leader. Persuasive and full of charm one moment, ruthless and murderous the next. Millson revels in the complexity of the monarch exploring every layer with subtlety and style.

He tackles Shakespeare’s famous “Once more to the breach, dear friends” monologue with a solid and rousing conviction: his army literally chomping at the bit, breathless for the battle to begin. In contrast the commanding warrior loses all composure when attempting to woo Katherine, faltering over his words as he bashfully fumbles in French.

Millson is supported by an impressively strong cast notably Samuel Collings as Pistol, Seren Vickers as Fluellen and Vanessa Schofield as Scroop/High Constable while Mitesh Soni and Sarah-Jane Potts inject some well delivered humour as Alice and Katherine.

Director Loveday Ingram and her cast not only find the heart of Henry V but also the humour too in this solid and potent production as keen observations of the human spirit play out.

Vulnerabilities of leaders are masked with chest pumping and posturing while the battlefield scenes remind us of the catastrophic consequences of decisions driven by political self-promotion. The scene after the battle of Agincourt packing a deeply emotional punch as the cast hauntingly sing to the skies.

Andrew Patterson’s dynamic lighting design adds atmosphere and depth while Paul Benzing’s fight direction adds authenticity and impact.

This is a cleverly constructed piece which will stay with audiences long after viewing. Vibrant storytelling at its finest.

Henry V is on at Grosvenor Park Open Air Theatre until Sunday 25th August tickets available here.