Music: Michael Legrand
Libretto: Didier Van Cauwelaert
Adaptor: Jeremy Sams
Direction: Hannah Chiswick
Reviewer: Maryam Philpott
Michael Legrand’s 2002 musical Amour has plenty of emotional dilemmas for its characters, but a new production at the Charing Cross Theatre will also create some for the audience. Its story is light as air, almost comic-book bonkers with roughly sketched characters and a fairly meagre plot, yet Director Hannah Chiswick and Choreographer Matt Cole have created a madly charming two-hour show that somehow rises above its material.
Dusoleil is a lonely clerk dedicated to his job but with no friends or family to care for him. One night during a blackout he discovers the magical ability to walk through walls and suddenly the chance to impress his married neighbour Isabelle springs to mind. Now revered by the locals as the cat burglar known as Passepartout, Dusoleil shares his loot within his Montmartre community, but only drastic action will force Isabelle’s attention.
Amourlasted only two weeks on Broadway despite earning five Tony nominations the following year and watching the UK professional premiere at the Charing Cross Theatre it’s easy to see why. Amour is a mass of contradictions, the heightened magical reality of its French origins – so familiar to fans of Gallic cinema and Legrand’s fantastical score for the Umbrellas of Cherbourg – pulls against the traditional musical score and adaptation, while the love story and entertaining comic subplots equally compete for attention.
Yet, the unpredictable absurdity of it starts to win the audience round as the richness of the scenarios and Chiswick’s assured and inventive direction take hold. In a small traverse space, designer Adrian Gee creates many flavours of an artistic Paris set largely in a local square dominated by a lamppost and filled with street artists, balloons, umbrellas with internal torches and more uses for chairs than you could ever imagine – stacked together as walls, laid end-to-end to form a dining room table and giving height variation to the musical performances.
While a man walking through walls is less bizarre in our days of Marvel and DC superpowered heroes, there is, even more, to admire in the fantastic array of character roles performed with gusto by the supporting cast. Claire Machin is particularly brilliant as a prostitute with few clients receiving a windfall from Passpartout and becoming his greatest advocate while also joining Elisa Churchill as Dusoleil’s distant former colleagues now in love with his alter ego for the amusing Dusoleil in Jail number.
Gary Tushaw makes for a sweetly geeky protagonist whose sudden skill-upgrade doesn’t change his reticent personality but retains a sympathetic normalcy. It’s difficult to believe in the central love story of two strangers who barely know one another, but Tunshaw’s fine voice brings an ardent warmth to the role of an ordinary man in an extraordinary situation. Anna O’Byrne’s Isabelle sings with equal emotion but her character is little more than a princess to be rescued with no agency of her own and far too old-fashioned a trope for the audience to truly root for.
Legrand’s music is cleverly phrased, it sweeps and soars as you would expect from so celebrated a composer while effortlessly switching from romantic to silly in a few bars. Sams’ adaptation is structured like poetry, so lines run at a different pace to the music with the rhyming words in different parts of the sentence, which sounds complex but offers lots of humour, particularly in Act One as Dusoleil’s stuttering new boss declares “I’m an ass, ass, asset” and many ruder constructions besides.
Amouris a strange work that will surely be divisive. Its structure and story are frustratingly elusive yet somehow still you want to watch it – it’s a show you can love and hate at the same time. Chiswick and Cole don’t quite overcome the show’s problems but their technical skill in bringing it to life is truly impressive.
Runs until: 20 July 2019 | Image: Scott Rylander