Amélie is a dreamer; a young girl who doesn’t fit in, who finds fulfilment in helping others and performing random acts of kindness. Put like that, her story sounds heart-warming but cliché at best; the kind of night out at the theatre that you forget quicker than you can say, “Why was there a song about a giant life-size gnome in act two?” the moment you walk out the door. Nothing could be less true about Amélie’s story. It is the extraordinary combination of moments of pure poignancy and hysterical comedy (featuring giant gnome puppets) that grounds this otherwise ethereal tale and causes you to run the full gamut of emotions; from belly laughs to silent tears and back again.
For such a strange character, Amélie, who is “not like other girls”, is made incredibly relatable by Audrey Brisson’s astonishing performance. A girl who was liked but not known, someone who has stayed smothered by the isolation of their childhood simply because they know no other way to live. An extreme example of modern day loneliness perhaps, but one that draws you in with a feeling of ashamed recognition. You know what it’s like to be going around and around in circles, never moving forward from your solitary and repetitive existence. This frustration is beautifully highlighted by the introduction of the café customers. We are introduced to a struggling poet and a woman in love with a dead unfaithful lover. There is a crippled trapeze artist and a man and a woman with unrequited feelings for one another. Bizarre? Certainly. But as we get to know each one of these characters, we come to see that instead of being linked by a chequered past and a miserable outlook on life, they are instead linked by cross currents that connect every life in Paris, just waiting to be set in motion by one rather awkward young girl.
This ability to make such far-fetched story so utterly believable was helped in part by the tongue-in-cheek nature of much of the plot. For example, as soon as the mood became a little too pensive and serious just after Amélie’s life changing decision, out strode Elton John to sing a bold parody of the tribute he paid to Lady Diane at her funeral in 1997. In a moment, the audience were roaring with laughter; turned topsy-turvy from the pathos created just five minutes before.
The story ends with Amélie trying to find the courage to live her own life. In her little round flat, encapsulated behind a clock face, Amélie has to cease going around in circles and hiding her own personality from the world. And so it is, against a background of soaring music and beautiful songs, that Amélie embraces real life, and leads the audience from her picture perfect world to one that is all too familiar in its uncertainties and flaws. However, with both worlds now blended, each member of the audience takes home a small piece of Amélie’s romantic existence, as a reminder that strangers can be friends, problems can be solved and small acts of kindness can leave a trail of breadcrumbs to lead you more than halfway to happiness.