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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

 
ASPECTS OF LOVE
at Menier Chocolate Factory

PLAYING TO THE BACK ROW
By JOHN NATHAN

  Katherine Kinsgley/ Ph: Catherine Ashmore

It struck me suddenly, a little like the way love must have struck Alex when he first saw Rose in Paris, or how love strikes Rose after they elope to a Pyrenees villa, or how it hits Alex’s uncle George when he sees Rose in that dress. Or the way it strikes Rose when she falls in love again, this time with George. What suddenly struck me was why Andrew Lloyd Webber's musicals so often leave me cold. It is because there is so much more emotion up there on the stage than there is down here in the stalls.
 
This gap – protagonists' passion on the one side and something like audience (or my) dispassion on the other – became a yawning chasm in Love Never Dies, Lloyd Weber’s recently opened sequel to Phantom of the Opera. In that supersized show, the arias clamber up the higher reaches of the octave and decibel range and are apparently written to a rule of thumb that says, the more you love the higher and louder you get. It's awfully difficult to care.
 
Aspects of Love is an altogether better show. Instead of Ben Elton’s ludicrous book, Lloyd Webber has David Garnett’s 1955 romantic novel from which to draw inspiration, as do efficient lyricists Don Black and Charles Hart.
 
The post-war tale begins in Bohemian Montpellier in 1947 and spans two decades, most of which Rose (Katherine Kingsley) opts to spend with Alex’s urbane uncle George (Dave Willetts) and not with George’s resentful nephew Alex (Michael Arden). The other aspects of love here include George’s affair with his Italian mistress Giulietta (Rosalie Craig), a relationship that blossoms into Giuletta's affair with Rose, although this is before Rose has a daughter by George, who in turn falls in love with Alex.
 
And just when it appears we have the measure of it all, when Rose informs Alex that her love for George is undying, Alex asks, “So what is it you feel for Hugo?” And for a second I thought, who the hell is Hugo? Oh, of course, Hugo, Rose’s lover. Well you can’t blame her. George is getting on. Although quite why Alex won’t do is never explained.
 
The show started life as the third Webber/Nunn West End blockbuster, an association that began with Cats in 1981. Nunn’s return to the musical sees the director do for Aspects what he did for Sondheim's A Little Night Music, namely pare it and the staging down to something approaching a chamber piece with a band of seven instead of an orchestra of 17.
 
"Love Changes Everything" was the show’s chart hit, though for my money, Lloyd Webber’s score is best when it is at its least demonstrative. The melody that serves as the musical’s theme prettily meanders through the narrative like a Pyrenees stream.
 
But a cancan couldn't hide the po-faced self-importance of this piece. Words are sung whether or not they are in a song, as if to say this is more than a musical, you know. This is opera – almost.
 
Yet despite the overwrought emotions, Nunn and his talented cast bring out the poignancy of lives and their loves remembered. The evening is framed by Alexis thumbing through his photo album, the contents of which are projected scene by scene in a frame that hangs centre stage and forms part of David Farley’s expressionistic design of George’s villa. It is effective, although it looks, a little oddly, as if it has been carved from cork.
 


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