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Review: Amelie at Liverpool Playhouse ****1/2

Amélie Poulain’s fantastical journey comes to an end in Liverpool this week as the stage musical version of the cinematic hit concludes its inaugural UK tour with a Playhouse residence.

And it’s both a delightful petite gâterie for Liverpool audiences and a triomphe massif for the cast of what is a wonderful slice of whimsy in a dark and often rather depressing world.

Amélie’s silent exterior belies a rich interior life and vivid imagination which bursts out in giddy, trippy fashion as she determines to help others achieve their dreams.

But a chance encounter with the mysterious Nino, who travels Paris picking up discarded images from photo booths, stirs feelings which threaten to upset her self-possessed equilibrium.

Audrey Brisson has been award nominated for her performance as the titular heroine and if she doesn’t win, I’ll eat the plat du jour (even if it is a rampant fig tart).

The petite Canadian is a luminous presence as the winsome waitress and narrator, and her expressive performance is a joy from start to finish

Time performing with Cirque du Soleil have also left her particularly limber, meaning she pops up unexpectedly all over the stage as well as nonchalantly sailing skyward, swinging one-handed from a lampshade as she ascends to Amélie’s impossibly charming eyrie which crowns designer Madeleine Girling’s magical set.

With Danny Mac bunking off in favour of rehearsals for White Christmas, the very able Chris Jared has stepped back into the shoes of quirky love interest Nino (a role he performed in the show’s Watermill Theatre premiere).

Jared is also a nifty guitarist in a cast which is bursting with actor-musicians who swirl around the action playing piano, accordion, violin…and cellos nonchalantly tucked over a shoulder.

It seems the ability to be able to pick up an instrument – or three – is increasingly a pre-requisite for young actors. Just look at Girls Don’t Play Guitars around the corner at the Royal Court.

Music and movement go hand-in-hand here, with Everyman Rep Company (and soon to return to the Playhouse for Miracle on 34th Street) ‘dream team’ George Francis and Tom Jackson Greaves working in tandem to create a whirligig of sound and spectacle that has distinct hints of Moulin Rouge. Without the absinthe and consumption that is.

And if you can’t hum all composer Daniel Messe’s melodies on the way home, they’re certainly perfect in their place, creating the atmosphere that makes Amélie an enchanting night of theatrical escapism - albeit at two hours 35 minutes rather a long one.

All photos by Pamela Raith

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