Kneehigh’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg

I’ve always loved Kneehigh’s work, ever since seeing The Red Shoes for the first time almost ten years ago. I was enchanted by Hansel and Gretel and Nights at the Circus, and although l didn’t much agree with their rather jaundiced take on A Matter Of Life And Death — one of my absolute favourite films — I was still dazzled by its vision, and captivated by its craft. So my hopes were high for their adaptation of Jacques Demy’s Umbrellas of Cherbourg — until I saw the savage reviews. It was empty and charmless and pointless and stupid and — well – much too French, argued the critics, who seemed to be lining up to bring it down.

And then I saw it. And it’s terrific. It’s funny and beautiful and full of lovely touches, like the three sailors who, like guardian angels, literally sweep the story’s lovers off their feet. But it’s also sharp and sad and well-observed and very touching, for all its gauzy colours and its sweeping, soaring themes. Ah, yes, the music. The film has one great storming number, I Will Wait For You, a melody that makes me long for a Gitane even though I’ve never smoked. But the critics who said there are no other tunes just weren’t listening: the show is packed with snatches and samples of melody that echo, tease and reference each other. And claims that the story is banal are missing the point: Umbrellas is a kitchen sink tragedy, with the simple everyday disasters of simple everyday life. I don’t think the show is flawless — I’d have liked more sexual chemistry between the leads — but there’s a real beating heart beneath its paper moon. The show is sadly closing soon, so here in memoriam are a few clips that Kneehigh have posted online, including a very unexpected guest …


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