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#191 The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

March 15, 2011

"Umbrellas of Cherbourg' is the name of the heroine's mother's umbrella shop. Now you know! Does it have deep thematic significance? Nah, not really. Nice twirly whirly though.

Go and see The Umbrellas of Cherbourg at the Gielgud Theatre. Oh, go on. It’s an adorable, kitsch little cup-cake of a production. For those of you (like us) who haven’t seen the original 1957 French musical film, this is the story of the 16-year-old Geneviève and Guy, her mechanic boyfriend*, battling to be together through war, love rivals and everything else life that the stinky port town of Cherbourg throws at them.

This version works the 50s setting and music for all it’s worth, conjuring up a world of Gauloise-smoking, jiving, French provincial fun. Burlesque star Meow Meow is on top form, bantering with the audience and introducing the down-at-heel world of Cherbourg, a French port she compares to ‘your English Portsmouth? No, Hull!’ Not so much Grease, as huile d’olive. (Sorry, couldn’t resist.)

As this is a tale of young love and its consequences, it’s only half about joy. So, at the risk of being a killjoy, I’d say the tone is ever so slightly off – the tongue-in-cheek song ‘n’ dance shenanigans lose their way a little when things become more serious. And for all their fun, Meow Meow’s framing sections do take you out of the action somewhat, foregrounding the camp elements over the heartfelt drama.

Carly Bawden as Geneviève and Andrew Durand as Guy. Pronounced 'Ghee', obviously parce que it's French. Like the clarified butter. I dunno.

Still, it’s impossible to dislike, and the dynamic and imaginative sets bring this small world to life. The cast know what they’re doing, too. Joanna Riding in particular romps through an entirely convincing performance as Geneviève’s thin-skinned, soft-centred mother, lightening the central sections of the show (which are basically a series of arguments between a teenage girl and her mum.) The young lovers themselves have high, clear voices that easily handle the songs and the infectious, oft-repeated theme music; but as usual with this kind of story, they seem more happened-to than happening, if you see what I mean.

Anyway. Although Umbrellas of Cherbourg may not be quite the unflappably fabulous confection it wants to be, it’s still a ton of fresh fun. And it retains a feel-good vibe, right to the very last hip-shake. It’s not on for long, though. So off you go!

*Not ‘mechanical boyfriend’. You want The Wizard of Oz for that shizzle.

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