Royal Academy of Music
Musical theatre folklore looks scornfully on Amour – consigned to history after a shockingly brief Broadway run, despite a score from Oscar winning composer Michel Legrand. It’s become a sort of musical Bermuda Triangle, with very few videos anyone, anywhere, performing it online. So it was with some trepidation that I walked into the Royal Academy of Music’s summer production of Amour; luckily, these fears were very quickly dispelled.
The plot of Amour is simple but enjoyably quirky – an unremarkable civil servant toils away in a dreary Paris office, unappreciated by his lazy co-workers. One day, he discovers he can walk through walls and quickly resolves to use his new found powers to steal from the rich and give to the poor, torment his comically dictatorial boss and try and win the affections of the gorgeous and permenantly imprisoned Isabelle.
The score for this production is truly beautiful (as you may expect from an Oscar-winning composer) and is played perfectly by the band (as you may expect from the Royal Academy of Music!). The lyrics, adapted by Jeremy Sams, are fiendishly clever and kind on the ears, with some of the wordplay worthy of Sondheim at his best. The score is entirely sung through and there are way more hits than misses, with the character solos and lively ensemble numbers soaring and captivating throughout. They say a sign of a good musical is when a song gets stuck in your head and I’ve had several of the recurring refrains (especially one sang by Toby Hine’s news vendor) bouncing around my sinuses for about half a day now.
Amour could almost have been written especially for a summer showcase; every member of the excellent cast has at least one meaty part that gives them an opportunity to show what they can do. They are all terrific and not one of them would look out of place if they were dropped onto a professional stage tomorrow. The plot is undeniably silly and paper-thin in places; however the sheer energy of the performances and staging means it barely even registers.
The lead role is brilliantly performed by Chris McGuigan, who excellently captures the protagonist’s journey from a grey nobody to a troubled media sensation. Josie Richardson is similarly sweet and note-perfect as the helpless Isabelle; she clearly has a stunning voice and gamely dealt with a bit of microphone trouble during one of her big numbers (the perils of trying to undress on stage!).
There were also a series of impressive ensemble performances, which helped to add depth and colour to what could easily have been a conveyor belt of stereotypical characters (painter, policeman, doctor etc). Everyone nailed their individual solos, with Maeve Curry’s prostitute and Toby Hine’s nervous lawyer getting every drop of potential out of their songs. The best performance of the night though goes to Alfie Parker, who displayed superb comic timing (and surprisingly good dance moves) as he moved between the roles of doctor, policeman and judge – definitely one to watch.
Adrian Gee’s minimalist set worked beautifully; looking at the very sparse pieces of footage from the ill-fated Broadway production, the set often looks too cartoonish and bright, highlighting rather than complimenting Amour’s inherent daftness. This production was simpler and was much more powerful as a result; the ‘walls’ were made out of fellow ensemble members and chairs were used to create a variety of different backdrops, including tables, podiums and jail cells.
The cast was permanently on stage, which due to the activeness of the ensemble was not as distracting as it occasionally is. There were a few deft directorial touches from Hannah Chissick; maintained right up to the finale with a very clever curtain call. This production did however pose the age-old theatrical question – why do plays set in France never feature any French accents? It didn’t particularly hinder the play but it could have served to distinguish it from Les Miserables (made even starker by the fact that Les Mis is parodied in one number) – at one point you half expected Javert to come on stage and start shouting at people.
Matthew Cole’s choreography was first-rate and would be the envy of many higher budget productions over in the West End. The aforementioned props were well used in the dance numbers, with a wonderful high-energy sequence during the Act Two song The Trial. The routines seemed to feature slight nods to other West End classics, with the civil servants drawing memories of the dreary accountants from The Producers. The hapless gendarmerie were given some especially amusing and gawky moves, echoing the policemen from A Pirates of Penzance. It was all skillfully done and gave the play the blistering energy and fun that it needed.
If tonight’s performance represents the future of British theatre then we are in very safe hands indeed. OK, so the story is about as substantial as the walls that kept toppling throughout the production. However, a beautiful score and some first-class performances showed that Amour really can be a labour of love. Now, where can I find a cast recording?