Umbrellas of Cherbourg
1957 France a shopkeeper's daughter and a garage mechanic fall in love
and spend a night of passion before he is drafted and sent to war in
Algeria. Pregnant and feeling abandoned, she accepts the proposal of a
rich man. And then the soldier comes home from the war.
of the charm
of Jacques Demy's 1964 film of bittersweet romance came from the
novelty of having all the dialogue, even incidental small talk, sung to
the music of Michel Legrand. (The presence of Catherine Deneuve didn't
carried over to this new stage version devised and directed by Emma
Rice of Kneehigh Theatre, but perhaps because we've had plenty of
sung-through stage musicals since 1964, the novelty and charm aren't
quite as strong.
since, with a
couple of notable exceptions, Sheldon Harnick's English lyrics are
almost assertively banal and prosaic (Would an occasional flight of
poetry or eloquence of any sort really have hurt?), what pleasures
there are here are to be found almost entirely in the production.
because amidst the mass of movie-music underscoring there are two truly
lovely melodies in Michel Legrand's score, both of which inspire
lyricist Harnick to something a bit less pedestrian - the well-known 'I
Will Wait For You' and the rich man's declaration of love and
adaptation adds a new character as scene-setter and narrator, and
cabaret artiste Meow Meow dominates and almost completely runs away
with the evening.
outrageously with the audience, slithering sexily around the stage,
singing and dancing with irresistible personality, she is frequently
far more interesting and entertaining than anyone and anything in the
story itself, and when she interrupts the action to coo the
interpolated Piaf-ish torch song 'Sans Toi' she puts everything else to
talent as a director is in creating moments of heart-stopping stage
magic, and there are some of those here. Meow Meow's narrator is
accompanied by three dancing sailors, and the four of them become
stagehands in the Chinese mode, wandering through the action in implied
invisibility, moving sets and props and responding emotionally to the
signature is the use of flying to symbolise passion, and here Rice
doesn't put the lovers on wires but repeatedly has them lifted by the
'invisible' sailors and carried toward each other.
consists mainly of the fluid movement of sets and actors, though there
are three evocative set pieces, an early tango for the lovers, a
nightmarish nightclub sequence for the despairing soldier, and a
totally irrelevant but thoroughly delightful kittenish dance for Meow
Meow and her sailors.
playing the girl's mother, gets star billing alongside Meow Meow, but
it is an almost faceless supporting role. Carly Bawden in the Deneuve
role has a strong presence and a lovely voice, but Andrew Durand is too
bland and generic as the mechanic/soldier to make much impression.
is very much the Meow Meow show, with everything else harmless and
painless filler between her star turns.
Return to Theatreguide.London home page.
- The Umbrellas of Cherbourg - Gielgud 2011