Currently playing at London’s Gielgud Theatre and drawing its inspiration from the 1964 film of the same name, The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a story of opposed and thwarted love set against the background of the Algerian war.
The story of young mechanic Guy and shop girl Geneviève and their untidy love affair is told via a score by Michel Legrand which includes his songs famous ‘Watch What Happens’ and ‘I Will Wait for You’.
Be warned, if you like your musicals to punctuate the songs with jokes and dialogue this isn’t for you – very line is sung removing any room for spontaneity or fluctuations in performances.
The two lead roles are played by Carly Bawden and Andrew Durand, both turn in solid enough performances for there’s no real sign of chemistry between the pair – surely a serious problem in a story of young, urgent love?
Setting the scene for each act is Maitresse, a wonderfully cliched, almost ‘Allo ‘Allo style narrator played by Meow Meow (Melissa Madden Gray).
Sadly her limited appearances contain most of the fun of the night, the main story is a fairly downbeat affair lacking the happy ending most of a causal West End audience is likely to want in return for their money.
Of course the overall thrust of the plot is fixed by the original source material and the producers deserve praise for daring to offer something different from the US-film schmaltz which forms the inspiration for much of the West Ends recent big names.
Sets for each location emerge from the recesses of the stage and the action takes place against a dark set with relies on costumes, scale models of Cherbourg’s key locations and illuminated signage for its colour.
The ever present nature of the wider Cherbourg background means there’s no real variation in the look of feel of the locations. Sadly, the overall tone is fairly flat and ponderous and even if you’ve never seen the film the story offers no surprises.
Despite all the grumbles I actually enjoyed the play immensely but if you want an energetic, fast-paced night at the theatre Cherbourg isn’t the destination for you.
For more information and bookings visit www.umbrellasofcherbourg.com