Edinburgh Fringe 2011
There’s been something of a trend in recent years to translate iconic films for the stage. Normally, that’s been with somewhat older films – A Matter Of Life And Death springs to mind – but this time round, it’s the very simple and funny tale of a boy and his adoptive mother realising his dream of entering the Tour De France.
Those who are familiar with the film will find this stage version – well, familiar, although it’s not too slavish to the original. Indeed, there are a few new sequences created for the stage, presumably to allow the storyline to cycle along more efficiently within the hour’s running time. The Belleville triplets are a strong feature of the piece, initially appearing as slinky attractive nightclub singers, then later as gurning, grinning pensioners.
It closely resembles the animated film, at times using puppets that visually resemble Gainsbourg caricatures, and involving little or no dialogue. Indeed, when Champion (the cyclist who’s the main protagonist in the story) first appears as an actual human – as opposed to a representative puppet – his performance is extraordinary – all bow-legged cyclist limbs (it helps that he wears an oversized nose) that almost exactly resemble the animation from the film. And it’s in moments like this that the production finds its real strength – managing to very closely physically resemble the source material whilst managing to attain its own identity.
Like the film, there is very little dialogue – although a new sequence explains how the heroes manage to infiltrate the secret headquarters of the Mafia.
And indeed, most of the scenes that fans of the original animation are fond of – the dog’s daily battle with the trains, the storm-drenched journey over the sea, all represented with the simplest of props (cycle wheels being a particular favourite).
Music is provided by a onstage group, as well as pretty much all the sound effects, giving the whole thing a threadbare, yet also entirely professional charm. It’s a piece – again, like the original film – that can appeal equally to kids as well as adults, veering as it does from moments of sweet delight to unexpected darkness, and is s an inventive and attractive version of the familiar story, told with great charm and humour.