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Thursday, 7 April 2011

The Umbrellas of Cherbourg at The Geilgud Theatre

Based on the 1964 Jacques Demy classic film, ‘The Umbrellas of Cherbourg’ in a new stage version is currently showing at the Gielgud Theatre, presented by Kneehigh Company. Emma Rice’s adaptation is close to the original with the addition of a few extra characters. Essentially it is a doomed love story, but the narrative is weak, lacking any oomph or depth. A garage mechanic, Guy falls in love with young Genevieve, who works begrudgingly in her mother’s umbrella shop. They are inseparable, but when Guy is sent to fight in Algeria for two years, Genevieve must decide whether to wait for his return or to accept the marriage proposal from a rich local merchant.

I felt sorry for cabaret artist Meow Meow as the maitresse, she had the difficult role of pre-show warm up but even after an impressive climb through the stalls failed to get the audience going. After this cringeworthy introduction was over, she improved immensely, and later performed a stunningly dark rendition of "Sans Toi," so alluring that it became my evening's highlight.

Michael Legrand’s romantic score works triumphantly well, and the large live band drive the show. ‘I Will Wait For You’ stands out as a particularly weepie central song, an emotional lilting melody that returns again and again throughout the drama. It is a shame that much of the singing cannot match the calibre of the music, sounding rather feeble, especially when harmonising is required. Lez Brotherston’s set is fantastic, with numerous imaginative touches, and thankfully where the plot lacks interest the delightful stage design compensates.

Carly Bawden is lovely as pretty Genevieve, innocent but confident with a shining smile, Andrew Durand’s portrayal Guy looks a little pathetic beside his strident lover. I enjoyed watching Joanna Riding as the smart Madame Emery, (mother of Genevieve) and thought her both convincing and amusing. A chorus of matelots prance about in cliché striped outfits assisting the main players by physically moving them around, it is a strange concept but one that adds fluidity to the action and reveals some nicely choreographed steps.

The theatre was pitifully empty when I visited with several angry viewers leaving at half time protesting that: "this show has no story". The American couple next to me giggled rudely throughout and when leaving I overheard several groups disappointedly comment that they hadn't realised the show is a musical, completely sung from beginning to end. So sadly, it seems that this sentimental French tale is lost on us Londoners, perhaps Meow Meow was right when she joked at the start that we were a typically English audience, keeping our feelings hidden away under our bowler hats.

Continues until 1 October 2011, book here.

1 comment:

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