Writer and Director: Emma Rice
Lyrics: Christopher Dimond
Music: Michael Kooman
Reviewer: Stephen Bates
With a celebration of the joy of romance and the miracle of chocolate, Emma Rice bows out as Artistic Director of the Globe Theatre, leaving only broad smiles behind her. Based upon the 2010 French/Belgian film Les Émotifs Anonymes, her new musical is a sweet confection that is cornier than Kansas in August, but it appeals to the taste buds perfectly.
Angelique (Carly Bawden) is a gifted chocolate maker, too shy to speak to strangers or to let it be known that she is responsible for her mouthwatering creations. Jean-René (Dominic Marsh) is the owner of a failing chocolate factory, which he inherited from his father and he is similarly afflicted. When they dine together in a French bistro, the waiters (dressed in berets and matelot shirts of course) sing: “have you ever seen anyone quite like this, suffering from social paralysis”. The meal is an embarrassing disaster.
Angelique joins Les Émotifs Anonymes, a sort of Alcoholics Anonymous for the incurably timid, in which participants sit in a crescent and take turns to bare their souls while the others look in the opposite direction. Jean-René avoids public humiliation and opts for listening to self-help tapes and having cosy chats with his dead dad.
For business and emotional reasons, the storyline must surely bring the loveless pair together and Rice’s book offers no surprises. Adapting an original screenplay by Jean-Pierre Améris and Philippe Blasband, her script sometimes falls short on verbal wit, but she more than compensates with tongue-in-cheek staging that overflows with comic invention. She also uses comedy to great effect as an antidote when the sugar level starts to get too high.
There are no outright showstoppers, but Christopher Dimond’s crisply rhyming lyrics are amusing and they are given bounce by Michael Kooman’s tuneful score. The songs, ordinary at first, seem to get better as the show moves along, accompanied by Musical Director Jim Henson’s four-piece band.
Bawden and Marsh, carefully avoiding eye contact at all times, are touchingly awkward, but it is often the ensemble, choreographed by Etta Murfitt that catches the eye and ear. Among them, seasoned performers such as Marc Antolin, Philip Cox, Joanna Riding and Gareth Snook all grab at their chances to delight in strong cameo roles and help to keep the show bubbling when the predictability of its plot could have deadened it.
Lez Brotherston’s ingenious chocolate box set design well suits the soft-centred assortment that it holds. We all know that Angelique and Jean-René will eventually shed their inhibitions to make delicious chocolate together and, when they do, they literally walk on air. This could be the happiest show in London this Christmas.
Runs until 6 January 2018 | Image: Steve Tanner