Review – Aspects of Love, Menier Chocolate Factory

Thursday 15 July 2010


This was the first WEW outing to an Andrew Lloyd Webber musical since that other thing earlier this year, the occasion on which the Whingers finally – after four years of writing – came up with a reasonably funny gag. Monkeys and typewriters and all that.

No wonder another 11 people signed up to come along, all hoping to be around when the Whingers came up with their second apposite aphorism. Needless to say they were disappointed.

But that didn’t stop people trying to jump aboard the Whingers’ wobbly bandwagon and hitch their horses to the pun train but sadly the best that anyone could do in the way of a new take on the title of Aspects of Love are neither clever nor funny nor printable on these pages, based as they all were on the first syllable of the first word. One person’s efforts were severely hampered by the fact that she thought she was going to see Chess.

Yes, AOL was an unexpectedly popular choice. Perhaps we underestimate the pulling power of the Lord? Or were people anticipating another massive pile-up like the Menier Chocolate Factory‘s last production Paradise Found? Or was the intention to form a protective ring around the Whingers should the Lloyd Webber also be in attendance.

It seems quite unusual that Trevor Nunn who directed the original production is taking it on again. Apparently it was always intended as more of a chamber musical, does that mean the Whingers would find it as something best left under the bed?

That production was big, ran for over 1,300 performances in the West End and this production in the Menier’s uncomfortably hot chamber is certainly pared down from that overblown original. And if there’s anything to carp about here it’s not Nunn’s fluid production itself.

No, the production’s fine it’s the piece. SPOILER ALERT Based on the novel by David Garnett it centres on a 19 year old Englishman Alex Dillingham (Michael Arden, very likeable, terrific singer, worked with Barbra on her European tour and – surprisingly – turns out to be American ) who falls for a French actress Rose (Katherine Kingsley in a presumably deliberately shocking wig) who in turn falls for Alex’s rich uncle George (Dave Willetts, the first person to play the male leads in both Phantom and Les Mis, apparently, although probably not at the same time).

Rose later marries George, producing a daughter Jenny, who falls for Alex*. Oh and did we mention that George has a mistress in the form of Italian sculptress Giulietta (Rosalie Craig but sadly not this Rosalie Craig who can go cross-eyed ) who also seems to be involved  in some sort of sapphic tryst with Rose who also has a lover in the form of Hugo (uncredited in the programme) . Whew! You can’t say there’s nothing going on here. Does anyone else remember that old US comedy series, Soap?

Yes it’s all very embroiled, but it does take place over 17 years which is just as well as they fall in and out of love with each other but seem terribly grown up and forgiving about it all. To a point.

Setting-wise we are whisked breathlessly between Pau, the Pyrenées, Paris and Venice feeling as if we’ve fallen into a machine pulping excess copies of the Sunday Times Travel Section. Sadly the budget doesn’t allow for David Farley‘s set to render all these places in front of our eyes but some projections (including a tantalising view of what appears to be Hilda Ogden’s “muriel”) help provide some variety.

Reflecting the continental theme, some songs are in yer actual Français. Ibsen, Cocteau, Edith Sitwell and French artists are referenced. If you’ve got a Peter Mayle sitting next to your J K Rowling on your bedside table you’ll probably wallow in the sophistication of it all. Some of the scenes are entirely in French which seems une bagatelle prétentieux.

Having said that, some of the English dialogue might be better off delivered in French or not at all: “Whenever I see those mountains I will always think of you” and “My girlfriend would really like that donkey” elicited more than a couple of puerile snorts from the Whingers’ party. And it was particularly irritating that the apparently-very-amusing reason that Alex was forced to cut short his last year at school was only whispered. Perhaps writer Charles Hart couldn’t think of anything amusing enough to actually tell the audience.

Michael Arden gets to wear a very nice cardigan in the opening number which – like most of the other songs in the show – is “Love Changes Everything”. Now it’s a catchy tune and lyricist Don Black manages to lay some words over it quite unjarringly, albeit by using mostly words of only one syllable. But really:

Love changes everything:
Hands and faces,
Earth and sky,

Does it? Does it really? Does love really change your hands? In what way exactly, Don?

But we had more problems with the  recitative to be honest. We just can’t be doing with it. The songs are pleasingly catchy and if you don’t emerge humming “Love Changes Everything” there’s something wrong with you (God knows you will have heard it enough times). But why do they need to sing when they’re trying to open a door? Why bother to set platitudes and banalities to music? But there are other decent songs too – “Seeing Is Believing” was an early highlight.

Having said that the whole thing is very well lit (Paul Pyant), the music well played (look out for the poor conductor above the left hand side of the stage trying to conduct with his head inches away from a concrete beam) and well orchestrated and the singing is excellent. It’s quite an achievement that some of these rather unlikeable characters almost make us care about them. Katherine Kingsley makes a very good Rose, but it’s Michael Arden who delivers the star-making turn as Alex.

Poor Dave Willetts, though. Despite his stage presence and rich singing voice, all we could really think about whenever he was on stage was “What would Roger Moore have been like?” Sir Roger, who famously was born just around the corner from Andrew’s house very near to Dame Joanna Lumley’s home, more famously pulled out of the role in the original production during rehearsals.

Other high points of staging include a nicely done knife-throwing act in a circus (Paul Kieve of course) and live-on-stage sculpting in clay although Giulietta is clearly some kind of spatial genius given her ability to sculpt a face the opposite way round to the sitter. And we hardly thought about Lionel Richie at all. On the other hand, that camera isn’t an SLR so don’t focus it while looking through the viewfinder. It won’t help.

The real trouble is that the shifting allegiances of this group of people make it very difficult to care when one of the characters is having a love crisis as you know they’ll be in love with (or at least shagging) someone else again within minutes.  Act II drags because it’s just more of the same only with a rather embarrassing flamenco (why?) dance at a wake.

2 hours 40 minutes seems far too long and for once the blame can not be laid at the feet of Sir Trev. Either the piece is at fault or one must simply conclude that love only has enough aspects to it to fill one act.


* She is 15 or 16 when this happens. This on the day that the Swiss turned down the extradition request from the US to return Roman Polanski to face trial for raping a 13 year old.


33 Responses to “Review – Aspects of Love, Menier Chocolate Factory”

  1. David Cottis Says:

    Not a comment, just an anecdote. A few months after this show opened in the West End, I was at a public event featuring both Don Black and Sir Tim Rice, who gave the impression of politely detesting each other. At one point they had an exchange as follows;

    Sir Tim: I was interested to see that you and Charles Hart collaborated on the lyrics of ‘Aspects’. How did you do that?

    Don: Very simple, Tim. I wrote the bits you liked.

    Sir Tim: Ah. (Well-judged pause.) So Charles wrote most of it, then?

  2. Bev Says:

    LOL. We used to have EXACTLY that rhetorical conversation about how exactly does love change hands all them years ago when the show first appeared.Delighted to see the question raised again. This time we need answers!

  3. jmc Says:

    Perhaps the oddest thing about the show is even though it claims love changes all of those things, including the hands, it never seems to change the characters, who remain the same selfish, shallow, infantile egotists all the way through without changing one iota.

  4. webcowgirl Says:

    Jesus you are making me glad that this is ballet month for me. SEE YOU IN AUGUST. (BURN WEBBER BURN!)

  5. Chris Voisey Says:

    Another ASPECTS OF LOATHING anecdote… I waited until Dame Susannah Fellows took over the role of Rose at the Prince of Wales and while in her dressing room afterwards, there was a knockitty-knock on the door… Burt Lancaster if you please. It quite wiped out all memory of the show.

    I am still in post-Paradise Found therapy so I’m not allowed to go back to the Menier yet.

  6. John Says:

    It was hideous. Marlene Dietrich, I mean Katherine Kingsley is too young.. Can’t sing and has just stepped in from Allo Allo. The set is hideous and cheap even by Mernier standards. The recent uk tour was miles better.

  7. Ali67 Says:

    I agree.. It looked so ugly. And the casting felt like anyone decent who was offered if must have turned it down.

  8. igb Says:

    Of course, yer zillion-pound Leica M4 (Cartier-Bresson’s favourite) isn’t an SLR but is focussed through the viewfinder, as are all other rangefinder cameras. The image doesn’t go in and out of focus, as in an SLR, rather two copies of it slide in and out of alignment.

  9. Jan O Says:

    Great review, Whingers, spot-on as always. I agree, Michael Arden was excellent – and I would never have guessed in a million years he was American.

    The laugh-out-loud bit for me was when Hugo was comforting the widow Rose, in an accent which could only bring to mind ‘Allo ‘Allo “Durn’t cry Rose, you weel alwez ‘ave your mammaries”

    But I was seriously skeeved out by that father-daughter incestuous “I want to be your first” number. Eeew.

  10. sam london Says:

    Thanks to the member of the whingers’ entourage who kept me going with incisive observations towards the end.. After George’s funeral, Rose clutches his urn and weeps ” I thought you would live forever.” The muttered comment: “Stuupid.” left me shaking with laughter, rather than tears of nervous desperation for an exit. Merci.
    Propwise, Rose needed an eggwhisk and the stick of celery to do justice to that accent.
    Oh, and it was me who thought it was Chess. I still say a rendition of “One Night In Bangkok” would have helped it no end.

  11. sam london Says:

    can I put this up here too?: Went to see La Bete the night after this and probably enjoyed it even more as a result — a show about how mediocrity and crassness can take over theatre and masquerade as offering profound insight. Only impressive thing was realising Andrew Lloyd Webber had bankrolled the original (and failed) Broadway run of La Bete all those years ago. Was it to apologise for AOL? In which case why did anyone thing Aspects was worth reviving? Two stars – only for a talented set of musicians and cast with more Isabella Rossellini lookalikes than I’ve ever seen in 1 chorus. And 1 question.. what was that uniform Alex turns up in after 12 years? The Malayan branch of the Salvation Army?

  12. Natasha Says:

    Now I quite liked the embarrassing flamenco bit as at least it wasn’t another bloody rendition of Love Changes Everything. (And as JMC rightly pointed out, not only does it not change their hands and faces, it doesn’t do much for their personalities either).

    However,I’m chiefly puzzled as to why the dead wife’s dress looked like a Country and Western cast off. Was it a discard from Annie Get Your Gun?

  13. Ian Shuttleworth Says:

    1) Alex would have the “young man’s defence” available to him in the case of Jenny.

    2) Polanski was to be extradited not for trial – that took place 33 years ago – but for sentencing.

    3) The charge in question was not rape. Any mention of “statutory rape” might usefully consider that by the same definition, one third of the male population of Britain are rapists. And a significant proportion of the female population as well. That’s not a joke; nothing about the matter is, or should be taken lightly or without thought… in either direction.

    • 1. Surely by this time Alex is 10 years too old to invoke the “young man’s defence”?
      2. True. It is also true that if he returns to the USA he could well face charges of rape by use of drugs (and others) that had been dropped as part of the plea bargain.
      3. Yes, statutory rape. And yes, agree about not being taken lightly or without thought which AOL seems to do.

      • Ian Shuttleworth Says:

        1. I defer, not knowing the show; I just had a quick squizz about online.

        2. So why do folk argue that he should return to serve the agreed sentence when it might well be thrown out and raked over again from scratch? A (re)trial today would be an interesting prospect. For a kickoff, they’d have, I’m sure, to do without the co-operation of the victim herself, who has long urged that the matter be let drop. There would also be the conduct of the original prosecutor to introduce. The ongoing outcry seems to be less about justice than sanctimoniousness.

        3. Statutory rape is a concept, not an offence. And as I say, it’s a concept of which millions of both sexes are “guilty”. Far from Polanski “escaping” because he’s famous or an artist or whatever, it seems to me that that’s the only reason the situation attracted such attention in the first place.

        This discussion could perhaps be continued beneath your forthcoming review of “Spur Of The Moment”…?

  14. Weeping Willow Says:

    Why are the Whingers being so charitable about Trevor Nunn’s terrible production? The hideous set incorporated a large screen which flashed up images of where we were supposed to be in each scene but it looked as classy as a 62″ plasma screen in a council flat. The soundtrack incorporated birds twittering every time someone stepped outside (replaced by cicadas when we were briefly in Malaya). And the cast were turned into removal men, hauling on and off endless amounts of furniture for every scene, no matter how short. Couldn’t some imagination have been used which would have allowed the audience to use its imagination? And, despite the naturalistic style of the production, no attempt was made to make the three main characters age over the 20 year period of the story.

    The absurd idea of doing the first scene in French meant that I had no idea that Rose was a struggling (young!) actress at that point in the story. She looked and behaved like a middle-aged, spoilt star right from the beginning so there was no development in her character. And she was saddled with an Inspector Clouseau French accent for the rest of the evening.

    Act 2 must go down as one of the great horrors of all time. The dramatic tension is supplied by whether the 36 year old paedophile cousin or the 60 year old paedophile father of the 15 year old girl would deflower her first. Nothing would make me sit through this appalling show again…

    Two stinkers in a row for the Chocolate Factory.

  15. Shawn Churchman Says:

    Agreed Weeping Willow, the production was every bit as bad as the piece itself. There is no character development, but then you can’t really develop something one dimensional to begin with. Further why would you want to spend nearly (gasp) three hours with these infantile, selfish, moronic characters masquerading as real humans? The lyrics are laughable, truly sophomoric. And the actors, well, they aren’t given anything real to play, or interesting to say, so it’s difficult to be too tough on them.
    The set was hideous; the pacing glacial…
    I’m visiting from NY and was very excited to see my first Chocolate Factory production “in-house” (I loved the Sunday in the Park transfer), and I’m stunned at how poor this production is.

  16. […] West End Whingers: They reviewed Aspects of Love at the Menier Chocolate Factory. “2 hours 40 minutes seems far too long and for once the blame can not be laid at the feet of Sir Trev. Either the piece is at fault or one must simply conclude that love only has enough aspects to it to fill one act.” It definitely sounds better than Paradise Found. […]

  17. hotjohn Says:

    Re. Love changes hands and faces…

    Yesterday I saw the show and enjoyed it but, this morning, I noticed that the skin on my hands (particularly my right hand) is a good deal drier than usual. Is this mere coincidence or is something more sinister at hand (pun intended)? So far, my face seems free from dry patches but I’ll not take any risks and moisturise myself thoroughly before bed.

  18. Phil (a west end whinger) Says:


    Another new theatrical trend for 2010? A hand very significant in The Beauty Queen of Leenane at the Young Vic and A Behanding in Spokane.

    Perhaps Martin McDonagh had a hand in Aspects too?

  19. Marla Says:

    It’s not a wig, it’s her hair. I know the wigs mistress.

  20. Gosh! I enjoyed it much more than most of you did – but never having seen it before I didn’t know the story and found it a rather thrilling tale intelligently told.

    One thing about being in the front row of the Menier is that you notice things you’re not meant to notice. Alex was “on the bed” with Jenny when I noticed his watch. My guess is that it wasn’t Alex’s watch, but Michael Arden’s. To my astonishment I saw that it was precisely the same time of day in 1960s France as it was on a Sunday matinee in London. Amazing coincidence!

  21. Angela Says:

    I really enjoyed it and am going again!

  22. There’s a Bloomsbury link to all of this, you know – something the Whingers, with their love of milky tea, lorgnettes and occasional partner-swapping should really be more fully versed in.

    The novel “Aspects of Love” was written by David “Bunny” Garnett, who was one of the lesser-known hangers-on of the Bloomsbury Group. He was, for many years, the lover of Duncan Grant, who was having a long-term affair with Vanessa Bell (Virginia Woolf’s sister). Duncan and Vanessa had a daughter together, named Angelica. Bunny was present at Angelica’s birth (appropriate, really, since he was the father’s bumboy) and commented later that the baby was so sweet that he’d consider marrying “it”. Not terribly long thereafer, Bunny DID marry Angelica, when she was 24 and he was, um… 50. Ewwww.

    Naturally, noone mentioned to Angelica that Hubby and Daddy used to be lovers. Four daughters later, Angelica eventually found out the Awful Truth, separated from Garnett, and wrote “Deceived With Kindness”, which is probably the best hatchet job of a parent since “Mommie Dearest”. Garnett then moved to the South of France, wrote lots of novels and, we assume, drank rather heavily.

    Isn’t it all rather delicious – in a creepy paedophilic kinda way?

  23. Tom Says:

    From NYC: If transfered here all that matters at this point is music, lyrics, story and actors. As I understand it the Chocolate Factory is not exactly the Lunt Fountaine Theatre on Broadway. A few reviewers compared ALW AOL compositions to Richard Rodgers which I might disregard except for the fact that he’s been in that ballpark before. Some story elements are troubling though, but then we Yanks like Sienna Miller, and with a reimagining of it, who knows? By the way, can she sing?

  24. Stevie Says:

    When the paint dries – mid-run comments:

    Virgin viewed last night at Menier Chocolate Factory, ‘never saw the original RUG prod’ so perhaps I was advantaged; it’s difficult for audiences that have memories of previous productions. Most impressed, must see again before close on 26th Sept’. By-the way, the padded bench seating (numbered) is now much improved at Menier with good legroom, in fact I found myself never needing to change bums. The most comfortable and enjoyable night out I can remember; ten West End shows over the last few weeks for comparison.

    Contrary to high praise in this strand I was not convinced how Alex (Michael Arden), a somewhat inadequate and star struck young male ends up with two very special women and a teenager desperate to shack up with him. Some women just have to go for losers, I started to have hallucinations about his lunch box he was so lacking in other directions. Development over the scenes (spanning many years) of a tad more panache might convince. Perhaps it was a bad night for Mr. Arden, he did appear tired, but more likely Nunn has directed all libido out of him for good reason. The second half focuses Alex’s relationship with his much younger cousin Jenny; that had me researching European age of consent when I got home – some surprises there. As Faggy says up-strand, some background to author David Garnett helps understand his motivations behind the original story.

    A previous comment about Katherine Kingsley’s (as Rose) singing is most unkind, furthermore she held the show together with admiral and professional dedication. Now I’m no musician but driving home I was able to detect Madonna hitting a bum note in a highly produced single. I’m struggling to think where Ms. Kingsley put a note or word wrong; just a brilliant performance.

    The numerous back projection screens worked quite well for the outdoor scenes but the large permanent screen was quite distracting and best discarded, was that never-ending sequence of stills really necessary? Never underestimate the intelligence of your customers, the opening scene of LND makes the same mistake. Not long and we will see shows projecting ‘The End’. (Tissues not required)

  25. Stevie Says:

    It did occur to me that Mr. Arden may have his personal reasons for failing to appear aroused by all those gorgeous ladies; jetlag from NY? I’d better stop there. Vocally he’s very good, Streisand ain’t going suffer any less than the best on tour.

    LBW likes staging in-house stories of medya about medya (entertainment about entertainment) and Joe Public are happy to be fed incestuous shows. Worse still AoL is left open for a sequel; heaven forbid Alex is Jenny’s natural father, but the customers nor the medya will allow LBW to milk this one. So the treatment will stay in the drawer until discovered by a wannabe director many decades forth, an LBW season of ‘the ones we didn’t suffer’ at The RSC. Lovya, Stevie

  26. Stevie Says:

    GET THERE BEFORE 26th Sept.

    As promised, returned to AoL, not for the second time but for the third! My record for any entertainment, only my Fellini film on VHS reached this level. It must be Ms Kingsley’s consistent and professional performance as the emotionally flighty lead-libertine (Rose) that wins the day – and gets me back. It would have been good to see a few more seconds of Ms Kingsley’s dancing abilities at her husband’s (Dave Willetts) wake. Over the three viewings I’ve warmed much more to Mr. Arden’s rising performance as Alex; cutting-a-dash with the ladies. Following on from ten top W/E shows over recent weeks this beats them all. The whole company deserves much praise, catch them before it ends – flowers on the way.

    NOTES: Seeing the main back-projection screen again confirmed that it’s excessive. If one must SPELL-IT-ALL-OUT, perhaps setting it into the back-flat (back stage space allowing, even if not totally visible from some seats) would suffice in reducing it’s prominence. For the matinee on 4th Sept. Jenny (aged 12) was played by Suzy Oxenham wearing very noticeable eyeliner and/or mascara. Why go through all the logistics (chaperones etc.) of hiring a minor who then looks eighteen? Slap wrists, nicely of course. Mr. Arden; a touch of brylcreem towards the latter scenes would add extra panache (haircut noted), after all you do have three women throwing themselves at you. That won’t override the inadequate and troubled soul you might be underneath.

  27. […] late 1980s pseudo-Sondhiemy musical theatre, the overall effect is fairly dull. The ever acerbic West End Whingers offer an opinion on what it’s like watching an evening of musical beds: The real trouble is that the shifting […]

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