3 June 2021

Returning to London and Amélie.

It'd been 15 months since late February 2020 and my last trip to London, that then was to see a recording of the BBC panel show Q.I. It was on February 1st that I last saw theatre in London and that was the closing night of Amelie at The Other Palace, so for my first trip back to London after so long it was nice to come full circle and see a matinee of Amélie in it's new home at the Criterion Theatre now that the production has transferred into the West End.

For me going back on to public transport after all this time felt like something quite a big thing and my anxieties about it all were sky high in the days leading up to it but once I arrived at Leicester station for the journey down and met my pal Emmie (Carpe Diem Emmie) I felt okay. The train down itself wasn't too busy, there seemed be lots of space on the train and it felt really clean which was very re-assuring. 

Arriving at London St Pancras we met another up with another of our friends, Sarah. Sarah is part of a wonderful WhatsApp group that's been going on with fellow theatre bloggers and fans, we've done countless Zooms and it was lovely to finally meet in person. The three of us decided to walk to the West End rather than taking the tube - I think we all felt a bit too anxious about that just yet. I couldn't have wished for better company though on this trip.

The walk was really nice, especially with the glorious weather we had on the day, it opens you eyes to bits of London you don't always see if you hop straight on a tube. It only felt busy once we got to Tottenham Court Road and into Soho, it was busy pavements but it was manageable the whole time. It certainly wasn't as bad as I thought it might be. We wandered through and took a few photos of theatres before grabbing some lunch from B Bagel on the corner of Old Compton Street (delicious food by the way) and finding a spot to eat in Leicester Square. 

Me, Emmie and Sarah outside the Criterion Theatre.


After all this it was time to head to the Criterion Theatre for the matinee. Earlier in the day I received a text where you receive a link to fill out the Track and Trace information and once you've done that the tickets come through. Also on that text was the information for pre-ordering pre-show drinks or interval drinks as well as merch for the show which was all delivered to your seat after your arrival - something that worked so well. 

On arrival to the theatre, arriving at our allocated time, it was show your tickets by the door then have your wrist scanned for your temperature before scanning the tickets and in you go. The theatre itself was one I'd not previously been to and it was a beautiful building, the perfect size for the show and the social distancing measures in place were magnificent. They've taken rows out so you get extra leg room too which is always a bonus. Seats were blocked off between each party too so you had distance from each other. Mask wearing too, of course, although the ladies next to us weren't great at that. Much credit to the front of house team who were so welcoming and helpful throughout the building. Theatre is back and it feels so safe.

It was great to see lovely humans in Sophie and Amy at the theatre too, I spent that final night at The Other Palace with these two,  I'm sure we'd have been there all night if hadn't got kicked out by staff at around midnight! Sophie is such a diamond and I'm so proud of the personal victories she made yesterday. 

Onto the show itself, it was my 11th time seeing Amélie after seeing it in various touring locations during it's nationwide 2019 tour and then also at The Other Palace in London. It's as wonderous as ever. It's a charming, delightful, whimsical and heart-warming escape from reality (something we could all do with). The whole production is magically crafted from it's brilliant design and staging to the astonishing cast of actor-musicians. 

The set of Amélie.


Audrey Brisson encapsulated the title role with such skill. This shy Parisian who does small acts of kindness for others before opening her own heart after a chance meeting with a stranger, Nino. Her gorgeous vocals soar throughout. Audrey is so perfectly cast in the role. Chris Jared brings rugged charm and divine vocals to Nino. The chemistry between the two is palpable as the relationship builds. Their own real life relationship is masked on stage and it creates such a spark between the two. 

Throughout the company there is outstanding moments and performances, it does seem unfair to single out individuals when this show is very much an all together ensemble piece, each member of the company is as important as each other but I must mention a couple. Jez Unwin brings so much heart and soul to Amélie's father, Raphael, as he becomes a bit of a recluse after the death of his wife. He duals that emotion brilliantly into the touching role of Bretodeau, the number 'How To Tell Time' never fails to make me tear up. Rachel Dawson brilliantly plays Amélie's mother Amandine with fraught emotion of not having a son as well as Philomene an air hostess. She has such a lovely vocal tone, which hits home the most during 'Halfway' in act two.  Kate Robson-Stuart is constantly watchable with her boundless energy as café owner Suzanne. She is a remarkable talent. 

Nuwan Hugh Perera did a fabulous job understudying for Lucien/Mysterious Man and Gnome on the matinee performance - not only is he a great performer but his gorgeous rehearsal photos are a delight to peruse in the programme. It was nice to see a few new faces in the company too, many of the cast have returned from the previous runs but not all. As I say I though I could easily go through each individual performance because they are all integral and are all outstanding.

One of the shows strongest assets is the music by Daniel Messé and Nathan Tysen that was re-orchestra for the actor-musician UK run by Barnaby Race. It's brings the real flavour of Paris to life and creates such a lovely world to get lost in to. Right from the opening bars of the show it's transporting and a delight for the ears. I confess to many a tear during the performance, especially during my own personal favourite number 'When The Booth Goes Bright'. The swell of the whole of a whole company of talented people all playing together hits home most during 'Times Are Hard For Dreamers' in Act Two and it's a moment of pure elation.

You can probably tell by now that I'm quite in love with this show, if I were to give it a full review it'd be a massive 5 stars. For me it's the best show I have ever seen. It's helped me a lot personally during the last couple of years with own troubles, it's given me a world of great characters and stunning music to get lost in and find hope and happiness - especially during the pandemic. Seeing the show open again in the West End is joyous to me. This show and the entire company and crew deserve all the plaudits.

Post-show and full of all the emotions we headed off to Spaghetti House for a bite to eat before heading back home to Leicester - with another good journey on the train which again felt super clean and plenty of space. 

Days like yesterday have been very rare in the last 15 months and it was truly the perfect day. Magnificent company and an amazing piece of theatre. All the anxiety I felt was quashed and I enjoyed myself greatly. I've currently got 4 more trips to Amelie during the run (with the potential to fit more in!) and I urge you all to book a ticket and enjoy this Parisian paradise.



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