As rookies to the world of tragic comedy dramas of the musical variety, we didn’t think we’d be the best choice for the job of writing a review of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg at the Gielgud Theatre. However, despite our lack of credentials, we couldn’t help but be impressed by the brilliant comic timing, tongue in cheek cheek, charm and bitter sweet storyline of the production.
Set in the French port of Cherbourg in the late 1950s, the play opens out on the docks of the city and introduces the endearingly seductive Maitresse (played stunningly by Meow Meow) who acts as the perfect guide to the goings on in Cherbourg, lessons in French and life in general. However, the main storyline revolves around a little umbrella shop owned by Madame Emery (Joanna Riding) and her daughter Genevieve (Carly Bawden), who has fallen in love with the local mechanic, Guy Foucher (Andrew Durand).
The tale of first love is short lived though as Guy is called up to the Algerian War, leaving Genevieve heartbroken and in trouble. We don’t want to spoil too much of the remaining story for anyone that isn’t familiar with it, so we’ll leave the plot there, but what continues is more complex than the happy ending that you suspect for a lot of the play.
While it definitely took us a while to get our heads around the fact that every word is sung and not spoken, by the second half it was a complete aside. The attention to detail in the sets, the excellent 50s jazz musical accompaniment of the band (who were the unsung stars of the show, perched high up on the stage throughout) and the combination of self deprecating wit and endearing narrative made The Umbrellas of Cherbourg a great show. The touches of realism in the sexier of the scenes help to ground the production in enough life-like emotion to draw you into the story.
The amazing Gielgud Theatre adds to the sense of occasion too, bringing together a strong performance in a perfect setting. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg is a lot of fun to watch, but it’s also fairly poignant in parts, providing a cold slab of life delivered in blinding colour and charm. It’s also got some of the coolest dancing in town, making it a great night out no matter what your initial thoughts of musicals are.
The Umbrellas of Cherbourg review – 4/5