Writer and Director: Emma Rice
Lyrics: Christopher Dimond
Music: Michael Kooman
For a play that champions daring to stray from the recipe, Romantics Anonymous is slightly lacking in innovation. The impeccable production and talented cast are a delight to watch, and they are almost able to distract from the predictably twee plot, but not quite.
From the first soft piano notes and the Parisian-style street lights of the opening, the atmosphere is set and continues to immerse you with every flawless detail. Angélique, played exquisitely by Carly Bawden, effortlessly perfects the art of singing, charming and chocolate-making but, her confidence we are then shown, evaporates outside the kitchen. Socially anxious and “afraid of everything,” Angélique is on a quest to sell her delicious chocolate whilst remaining unseen. Her dream is transformed, however, when she meets Chocolate Factory owner Jean-René (Marc Antolin) who, whilst able to make a success of her sweets, is bumbling and anxious himself and turns out to be the person who sees her most.
The entire cast, with a support of seven, are enrapturing and delightful. Sandra Marvin’s voice is particularly impressive, and her number as Angélique’s mother adds some much-needed sour to the play’s otherwise steadfast level of sweet. Although not always consistent, there is also much comedy to revel in, with the scenes depicting the therapy support group relishing in stereotyping in a funny but inoffensive way. The set design and direction is as charming as the cast; everything from toy cars and angels of the deceased characters on the balcony set the mood.
Consistently noteworthy throughout is the skilled camera work. Not only is every scene steady and clear, but the play has been adapted for live stream. The cast use the camera for asides, drawing the audience in from their living rooms. Additionally, entrances such as Jean – René’s dead father – are concealed, so we share his son’s surprise when he invades his office.
Having premiered in January and been ready to cross the Atlantic on its USA tour before the pandemic hit, this sweet new musical by Emma Rice has, previously, gained immense praise. This week Wise Children has made it available to stream each night from the Bristol Old Vic. Its devotion to produce a live performance each night is commendable during a time when the arts industry is being pounded; it insists the liveness of theatre is paramount and its show is “complete with all the gorgeous possibilities for surprise.” These surprises are few however, and while the production itself was wonderful, the difficulties are with the original story.
At no point does the plot detour from the traditional musical romance. At no point is there a ruffle, never mind a moment of angst, that the love story might not end how we expect. The unvaried songs don’t help, unfortunately, most of them being undistinguishable from the others.
So, if in these uncertain times you’re looking to find comfort in a little familiarity, then Romantics Anonymous is the play to stream; charming, immaculate, and safe from surprise.
Runs until 27 September 2020