Belleville Revisited

Early February saw Warwick Arts Centre Studio serve up an utterly scrumptious feast of theatricality in the form of Belleville Rendezvous, the world’s first live-action adaptation of the much lauded 2003 animated film Les Triplettes de Belleville which was written and directed by Sylvain Chomet.

The story follows the elderly, although sometimes spry, Madame Souza who takes in her orphaned grandson Champion. In an attempt to cheer her melancholic grandchild, for whom happiness is a speeding bicycle, Madame Souza makes him his very first tricycle.

Time billows on past, and we meet Champion again, now a professional cyclist, with his grandmother as his devoted coach. Champion enters the Tour de France but during the race he is kidnapped by the mafia and is whisked away to Belleville where he is forced to take part in a mini Tour du France as part of an elaborate gambling ring. The ever staunch Souza and her dog Bruno set out to rescue Champion, aided by the once sizzling but now somewhat shrivelled Belleville triplets, who long before were the stars of the music hall alongside Fred Astaire.

The mere fact that such an exquisite and often gorgeously grotesque animation could even be considered for theatrical adaption is a tribute to the unique, and perhaps a little devious, vision of director Fiona Mikel and designer Clem Garrity.

Between them they managed to evoke the playfully macabre world created by Chomet with a delicious sense of style and aplomb. The lovingly detailed set and the inimitably crafted puppets and prosthetics provided Mikel with all the tools she needed to confidently steer the madcap story to its riotous conclusion. Praise too must be given to musical director Tegid Cartwright and his band of musicians, whose lush jazz score lent the play a sense of punchy wickedness and of great elegance.

The music of the play was not only provided by the instruments, but also the sound effects created by the cast themselves, which lent yet another layer of evocative detail to the piece as a whole.

The cast were outstanding from the very first dance number to the final furious car chase and it would be too difficult to single out any one performance as the best.

Instead it might be easier to recall some of the most sumptuous moments that the play had to offer. The opening scorching number performed by the triplets was a treat, followed later by their wonderfully aged bedtime ritual.

The first appearances of Bruno and Madame Souza were relished with delight by the audience, as was the naughtily pitch-perfect ‘time passes’ scene in which the ensemble were exposed behind the set, yawning and rolling their eyes.

Hilarious moments, including the shuffling arrival of the mafia henchmen, were poised next to tender instances like the young Champion’s take off into the sky, and the final image of the play as he rests his head on his grandmother’s shoulder.

With such an ambitious project there were bound to be some difficulties encountered. It might be said that at times, without foreknowledge of the film, it was quite difficult to track what was actually happening on stage. The seating arrangement also added a further problem for some audience members who could not always see the action taking place.

However overall it cannot be denied that Belleville Rendezvous was a roaring success. The direction, design, music and performances gelled together beautifully.

They created a succulent banquet of sound, colour and music which was infused with joie de vivre from start to finish.

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