The Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Gielgud Theatre, London

2.00

Camp? Well, let's put it this way. Kneehigh's stage adaptation of Jacques Demy's Gallic, unashamedly romantic and singularly through-sung 1964 movie musical was only half way through its cod introduction when I was assailed by a sudden Proustian memory. It was of an edition of Just a Minute in which Kenneth Williams was given, as his subject, the phrase "Honi soit qui mal y pense". "Translated into yer actual English," the great man averred, "that means 'Honest sweat killed many a ponce'."

"Manhandled by Matelots" could be the subtitle of this theatrical adaptation, which boasts a trio of butch dancing sailors who seem to have swaggered in from Genet's Querelle de Brest and who keep lifting the characters into supposedly revealing stage pictures. The director/adapter Emma Rice has also equipped the material with an archly demimondaine narrator-figure, "Maitresse" in the shape of the great comic cabaret diva, Meow Meow.

The irony is that this hilarious artiste is both the best thing about the show and an unwitting act of sabotage given that her rapport with the audience and her scandalous/mock-scandalised antics serve to expose the enervating wispiness of the central story. At the start, Maitresse clambers over the front rows, her legs thrust out in ballet extensions designed to offer the punters a gynaecologist's-eye-view of her assets. She then gives us crash course on Cherbourg and on its strange customs – the locals never stop singing.

She can say that encore une fois. The most salient feature of the screen musical is that, though it has only one real song, the plangent reprised-to-death "If It Takes Forever (I will wait for you)", all the dialogue, including the most thudding banalities, is sung too. I'm normally a huge admirer of composer, Michel Legrand. But much of the brush-on-cymbals-hustled jazz music here sounds like so much doodling and the English translation is often risibly flat. So I'm afraid to say that this account of The Umbrellas of Cherbourg kept reminding me of the game on I'm Sorry I Haven't a Clue where they struggle to fit the words of one song on to the tune of another.

Boy meets girl. He's a garage mechanic and she loves the smell of petrol. Boy gets called up for military service in Algeria. Pregnant girl marries rich admirer to save her mother's umbrella shop. Boy returns, goes through period of drunken dismay, and survives thanks to the loving support of another woman. Joanna Riding is a class act as the financially and emotionally strained soigné mother, but Carly Bawden lacks the vulnerability necessary for the heroine and neither she, nor the touching Andrew Durand, have any of the sex-appeal of Catherine Deneuve and Nino Catelnuovo in the movie.

Kneehigh's approach to love stories in the past has been to take classic romances and either to demonstrate how they can survive a spirited debunking (as in their very amusing Tristan & Yseult) or exuberantly to release the subtext (as in their wittily passionate crinkling of the stiff upper lip in their stage version of Brief Encounter). Here, though, they impose similar techniques on a fragile story that can't survive them. Ce n'est pas magnifique et ce n'est pas la guerre. Et surtout, pourquoi?

To 1 October (020 7907 7071)

Arts and Entertainment
Loading individual letters on to an original Heidelberg printing press
books
Arts and Entertainment
Shades of glory: Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend

Glastonbury Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend will perform with Paul Weller as their warm-up act

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: ‘We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon’, says Ed Balls

    'We will not sit down with Nicola Sturgeon'

    In an exclusive interview, Ed Balls says he won't negotiate his first Budget with SNP MPs - even if Labour need their votes to secure its passage
    VE Day 70th anniversary: How ordinary Britons celebrated the end of war in Europe

    How ordinary Britons celebrated VE Day

    Our perception of VE Day usually involves crowds of giddy Britons casting off the shackles of war with gay abandon. The truth was more nuanced
    They came in with William Caxton's printing press, but typefaces still matter in the digital age

    Typefaces still matter in the digital age

    A new typeface once took years to create, now thousands are available at the click of a drop-down menu. So why do most of us still rely on the old classics, asks Meg Carter?
    Discovery of 'missing link' between the two main life-forms on Earth could explain evolution of animals, say scientists

    'Missing link' between Earth's two life-forms found

    New microbial species tells us something about our dark past, say scientists
    The Pan Am Experience is a 'flight' back to the 1970s that never takes off - at least, not literally

    Pan Am Experience: A 'flight' back to the 70s

    Tim Walker checks in and checks out a four-hour journey with a difference
    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics - it's everywhere in the animal world

    Humans aren't alone in indulging in politics

    Voting, mutual back-scratching, coups and charismatic leaders - it's everywhere in the animal world
    Crisp sales are in decline - but this tasty trivia might tempt back the turncoats

    Crisp sales are in decline

    As a nation we're filling up on popcorn and pitta chips and forsaking their potato-based predecessors
    Ronald McDonald the muse? Why Banksy, Ron English and Keith Coventry are lovin' Maccy D's

    Ronald McDonald the muse

    A new wave of artists is taking inspiration from the fast food chain
    13 best picnic blankets

    13 best picnic blankets

    Dine al fresco without the grass stains and damp bottoms with something from our pick of picnic rugs
    Barcelona 3 Bayern Munich 0 player ratings: Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?

    Barcelona vs Bayern Munich player ratings

    Lionel Messi scores twice - but does he score highest in our ratings?
    Martin Guptill: Explosive New Zealand batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Explosive batsman who sets the range for Kiwis' big guns

    Martin Guptill has smashed early runs for Derbyshire and tells Richard Edwards to expect more from the 'freakish' Brendon McCullum and his buoyant team during their tour of England
    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'