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.