The Umbrellas of Cherbourg

Kneehigh is a Cornish theatre ensemble which has found success in London. I therefore identify with it, not because I am a Cornish theatre ensemble myself – although aren’t we all in a sense Cornish theatre ensembles? No? Anyway – but because like them, I grew up in Cornwall and then moved to London to seek my fortune. (I have not yet found my fortune, but I have found a shop that sells Japanese notepads with surreal quotes on them, so it was still worth moving.)

So I had affection for Kneehigh already, and then in 2006 I went to see their production of Nights at the Circus at the Hammersmith Lyric and fell hopelessly in love with them: their dark shiny style and their folky, staccato, instantly memorable songs and their offbeat self-aware humour and, well, everything. 

So this is basically to say: if you can, and if this trailer appeals to you at all, please consider going to see The Umbrellas of Cherbourg. It’s their current West End production, and it’s closing early (May 21st), and has tickets from £10. I’ve already booked my second visit, and I couldn’t swear there won’t be a third.

Because it’s lovely. It’s closely based on the 1964 French film, which is also sung through. (It’s been criticised for being too faithful to the original, but that’s a little unfair since that was the point of the whole thing.) It features people dancing while holding colourful balloons, and foamy rain, and sailors moving the main characters around like props, and an extremely French narrator who may steal your wine or tell you off for goosing her, and it’s a story about love, but not quite in the usual way. Unlike webcowgirl, I don’t find it heartbreaking; I find it oddly reassuring. But I won’t say any more, although it’s not a show that needs to worry about spoilers; the plot is only half the point, if that. The point, I guess, is the sheer beauty of it all.

It will, obviously, help if you like musicals. I understand that many people don’t, although I only understand that intellectually; emotionally I remain baffled. But then I was infected at an impressionable age (with Top Hat, initially) and ever since I have been of the opinion that life should include impromptu song and dance routines wherever possible. (My social inhibitions and lack of ability to either sing or dance are the reasons for my never having tried to put this into practice. I hope the world is suitably grateful.)

I suppose what baffles me is the people who complain, for example, about the way that musicals feature characters bursting into song in unrealistic ways. On this topic I am always reminded of a quote from the Kingsley Amis book The James Bond Dossier:

Either you smile appreciatively and nudge your neighbour and lean forward when – say – the saloon goes quiet as new marshal and town badman confront each other, or you groan and swear. If the second, you don’t like Westerns, and  perhaps would be best to avoid them.

Obvious, of course, but apparently it does need saying occasionally.

(Of course, the above quote may only work if you like Kingsley Amis, but I think I may be getting myself into some kind of recursive loop here so it’s probably best if I stop writing now.)



  1. I like musicals AND westerns but (looking at this list not musical westerns. :-(

    p.s. Okay, so three of ‘em weren’t ‘too’ bad but that would’ve spoilt the comment.

  2. Cynthia erivo says:

    Thank you for that wonderful low down you seem to have truly understood us here at the umbrellas of Cherbourg. It means a lot. Xx

    • admin says:

      Thank you so much for commenting, I’m very honoured! I think you’re amazing in the show by the way, can’t wait to see you again on the 23rd.

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