Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber
Lyrics: Charles Hart and Don Black
Director: Jonathan O’Boyle
Reviewer: Scott Matthewman
Heralding from an era of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s back catalogue more successfully populated by grand blockbusters Phantom of the Opera and Sunset Boulevard, Aspects of Love is an altogether more intimate story, based upon a novella by David Garnett. As such, Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre production, transferring to London, feels thematically at home in Southwark Playhouse’s auditorium.
The most immediate impression upon the audience is made by Jason Denvir’s set, a back wall comprised of louvred doors. It’s a flexible arrangement that switches with ease from backstage in a Parisian theatre to the terrace of a Pyrenean hideaway.
It soon becomes apparent, though, that in relating a smaller scale Lloyd Webber tale, the shortcomings of the story become all the more obvious. The central characters switch romantic pairings with the freneticism of a Ray Cooney farce without the jokes: 17-year-old Alex falls for actress Rose, who switches him out for his painter uncle, George: some years after their marriage, their precocious underage daughter Jenny ickily flirts with Alex (her first cousin, let’s not forget), who takes up with George’s ex while he waits for Jenny to come of age.
Lloyd Webber’s insistence on sung-through recitative between song numbers distances the actors and the audience from any hope of eliciting genuine emotion from these characters. Not that the songs themselves are any great shakes: it is not surprising that the only breakout hit the show created was Love Changes Everything, which opens the show (although the melody is, in true Lloyd Webber style, regurgitated throughout).
Felix Mosse’s Alex, supposedly the romantic fulcrum of the whole melodrama, cuts a rather unimposing figure here. His performance often feels smaller than even the Playhouse’s space would normally allow, only coming alive in the rare moments where he feels able to make use of his impressive belt.
The women of the piece make a better impression. Kelly Price’s Rose is a commanding presence, as comfortable flirting with Julia J Nagle’s housekeeper as she is with Mosse or Jerome Pradon’s underwhelming George. Madalena Alberto shines musically as Giulietta, the Italian sculptress whose nebulous relationship with George culminates in being “best man” at his wedding to Rose.
One can imagine how that scene’s conclusion, which sees Giulietta claim “best man’s rights” by snogging the bride, may have seemed shocking on the page. But this is little more than exploitation of queer sexuality for the titillation of straight men: on stage, George is visibly excited by the prospect of his wife and his girlfriend making out, and one can only wonder why this particular aspect of love was so appealing to Lloyd Webber, Hart and Black.
Apart from the aforementioned Love Changes Everything, Aspects of Love does contain a couple of other numbers which deserve more credit. In particular, the four-hander She’d be Far Better Off With You and the climactic funeral celebration Hand Me the Wine and the Dice do delight. But in stripping back the large orchestral score to just two keyboards and occasional percussion (under the supervision of musical director Richard Bates), any chance of variety in the score disappears.
Director Jonathan O’Boyle’s desire to strip back the musical to its storytelling roots is laudable. Such an approach works best, though, when there is something solid to be revealed when the fripperies are stripped away, and Aspects of Love really does not possess that. Love never really changes everything: on the contrary, this musical suggests that it just muddles things slightly.
Runs until 9 February | Image: Anthony Robling