Theatre Review - 'Umbrellas'

Posted by Alexander Hay

Love with a tinge of regret permeates Emma Ric’s stage adaptation of Jacques Demy’s 1964 film The Umbrellas of Gherbourg

Prepared for a rainy day in Umbrellas

The place is Cherbourg, the year 1957, and naive 17-year-old Genevieve, who works in her mother’s smart but struggling umbrella shop, falls in love with Guy, a young local car mechanic. 

Unfortunately he is drafted into the Algerian war and after a single night of passion he departs for active service, only for Genevieve to discover she is pregnant. Should she wait for him to return or marry a rich, dashing diamond dealer who is deeply in love with her and prepared to raise her child?

This production stays faithful to the original film – a bittersweet romantic musical – although it lacks its fluidity, fairytale atmosphere rendered in bright pastel colours, and sense of joie de vivre. The characters don’t so much sing songs as engage in sing-song conversations about the nuts and bolts of everyday life. 

The show has a whimsical charm despite the banal dialogue and constant scene changes with lively choreographed matelots rearranging not only the props but also the people. Furthermore Lez Brotherston’s evocative set with illuminated model houses, gantries and a long ramp to slither down and the words ‘Je t’aime’ in red neon is ingenious.

But what most people will remember from the iconic film, Michel Legrand’s haunting score with the dreamily romantic song ‘I Will Wait For You’ features throughout the show and has already become its trademark.

 There is another beautiful number ‘Sans toi’ taken from another Demy/Legrand film and sung here with great emotional force by the Australian chanteuse Meow Meow, who plays Maitresse, a character not in the original film but brought in to top and tail proceedings as a roguish narrator.

Carly Bawden brings a sweet innocence as well as an attractive voice to the role of Genevieve with her rendering of ‘I Will Wait For You’, making it particularly affecting, while Andrew Durand convinces as her homespun hero Guy, and Cynthia Erwo is touching as the nurse who is secretly in love with Guy. I think it was a mistake to cast a man Dominic Marsh as Guy’s ailing aunt.

The best performance, though, comes from Joanna Riding, who has just the right flighty desperation as Genevieve’s mother.

To sum up this flawed but entertaining musical provides a welcome escape in our grim economic times and reminds you that whatever life throws at you, the chances are you will still wake up in the morning and keep going.

Runs until October 1 at the Gieldgud Theatre

Box office: 0844 482 5130

Press: Janine Shalom at Premier PR 0207 292 8330

By Laurence Green

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Alexander Hay

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