All the poster needed was a couple of balloons tied to the bench for both of Phil’s theatrical bêtes noires to come together in one horrendous event (as was cathartically immortalised in song at Showstopper! the Improvised Musical).
“Think they’ll have balloons?” moithered Phil to Andrew, disconsolately, just before the curtain went up.
And bizarrely, yes, there were: three of them, red ones filled with helium but mercifully used not symbolically – merely as icons and indexes*, which is actually permissible within Phil’s Balloon Code.
There were more thrills to come: a cooking scene was perfect for Phil’s long-gestating food-on-stage thesis. What must be the fastest cooking pasta is boiled and eaten on stage. Onions are chopped, mushrooms tossed around willy-nilly plus a can of tomatoes which is opened live on stage plus garlic bulb-juggling and all this is all performed whilst delivering a song which rhymes “gnocchi” with “rocky” (which shouldn’t really be a surprising rhyme, but is) and includes the lyric “And life is molte bene when your pasta’s cooked with penne” which will be reprised by the Whingers every time they knock up an Italian.
Love Story the musical is based on Erich Segal‘s book which was famously turned into a hit 1970 film and which made stars of Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. It arrives from an acclaimed run at the Chichester Festival Theatre, although it has been considerably less acclaimed since it arrived in London for some reason. Anyhow, too late for Michael Ball who apparently fell in love with the show at Chichester and came on board as one of the producers
It’s not hard to see why he fell for it. On paper Cancer – The Musical! may not sound like a show with legs which is probably why it is actually called Love Story. If you haven’t read the book or seen the film we’re not spoiling anything here by saying it’s a shamelessly romantic story about a rich, sporty jock Oliver Barrett IV (Michael Xavier) and a poorer music student Jenny Cavilleri (Emma Williams) who dies at the end of Leukaemia which is a kind of cancer but the kind that you can put in a musical without actually using the word cancer. And – judging from her demise – it seems that Leukaemia just makes you a bit tired for a few months and then you fall asleep forever. It’s a very clean, quiet and dignified way to go – definitely one to opt for if you get the choice.
Now it must be said that the Whingers aren’t that keen on disease drama. It’s a bit near the knuckle as both have whiled away many hours reading the Bird Flu (and in Phil’s case, Spanish Flu) posters on the walls of the their respective GPs while waiting for appointments of one kind or another. Only the other day, Phil was getting a stern talking to from his doctor who insisted that Phil did NOT have hypochondria and that it was actually all just in his mind. Andrew, meanwhile, was receiving similarly distressing news at his local surgery – apparently he does NOT have body dysmorphic disorder – he is genuinely ugly.
And then there was the elephant in the room – Phil was experiencing tummy problems which he feared would mean he would have to use a toilet at some point in the evening. Now if one has to undergo this kind of trauma (which is what shared toilet seats are to Phil) then one can’t do much better than Nica Burns’s refurbished Duchess toilets so Phil was aware that he must be grateful for small mercies – it could so easily have been an evening at the Union Theatre. Which it will be tonight.
Anyway, sorry to talk about such unpleasant things. Let’s return to the more palatable topic of Leukaemia.
It transpires that Love Story is a rather charming and elegant chamber piece – the orchestra consists of white grand piano and a string quintet, all on white chairs in front of a white set with white windows. All it needed was some billowing white curtains and it could have been an 80s pop video or a feminine hygiene commercial. But if it was striving a little too hard to be classy it didn’t matter: the orchestrations felt fresh and light and the singers weren’t competing with it, which made a nice change.
Director Rachel Kavanaugh keeps the whole thing bouncing along, helping it to miraculously build to its climax without ever slipping into mawkishness. Never has an audience been so quiet at the end of a show. Even the person who had been texting in the second row and the woman behind the Whingers who had been rustling in her handbag were silenced. And Phil insists that he wasn’t “doing a Shenton” but merely had something in his eye. It was a tissue.
The music and lyrics (Howard Goodall, Stephen Clark) may not be remarkable but they serve the piece well enough. The interpolation into a new song of Francis Lai’s Oscar winning theme from the film “Where Do I Begin?” was deligthful.
The leads have a natural chemistry between them and carry the show getting most of the songs. Peter Polycarpou makes a good impression as Jenny’s father while Williams’ feisty Jenny keeps things just the right side of slushy sentiment.
The whole thing is over in 90 minutes with no interval.
Really rather enjoyable.
* Semiotics may have progressed since philosopher Charles S. Peirce identified these three kinds of signs in the late 19th century.