Your Lie in April – Harold Pinter Theatre, London

Reviewer: Maryam Philpott

Book: Riko Sakaguchi (Japanese) and Rinne B. Groff (English)

Music: Frank Wildhorn

Lyrics: Carly Robyn Green and Tracy Miller

Director: Nick Winston

The arrival of Your Lie in April in the West End following a critically acclaimed English-language concert in 2023 is a welcome platform for a Manga musical that had its world premiere in Tokyo in 2022, although its origins stretch back to the early century when the original story was published. A Strictly Ballroom-like story of two musicians who choose to defy the rules and play their own way in an important competition, this charmingly larger-than-life rom-com works its spell on an audience keen to embrace its charm.

Pianist schoolboy Kōsei refuses to play again after believing he killed his mother but cannot get her exacting mentorship out of his head. But when he meets free-spirited violinist Kaori, Kōsei finds himself drawn to her love of the music and, with nothing but the love of playing in mind, they break the rules together.

Frank Wildhorn, Carlyn Robyn Green and Tracy Miller’s musical revels in its light-hearted anime style; characters are big broad strokes, everyone is either delightfully sunny or broodingly deep and there is nothing to worry about except the music. But this breeziness starts to engage as the viewer invests in the story, willing Kōsei to rediscover his love of the piano and for the would-be lovers to realise how they really feel. Leave your troubles at the door and just embrace the escapism that Your Lie in April serves up, even if it is not clear what the titular lie is until the very end.

Given the very American theatre credits of the creative team, there is an understandable High School Musical feel to the visuals but Justin Williams has created a multi-layered set that mixes a very traditional Manga vision of beautiful cherry blossoms and pretty bridges with enjoyable video design by Dan Light Studio. The animation by Nathan Fernée and Isabel Sun, which underscores scene changes, creates some of the mood, including wispy visions of Kōsei’s mother and romantic starry nights for the lovers to meet under.

And a lot of the action centres on classical music performance, taking place at concerts and competitions that give star violinist Akiko Ishikawa the spotlight as her centre-stage playing doubles for Mia Kobayashi’s Kaori who mimes along. Zheng Xi Yong however plays his own piano pieces including a second Act showstopper that earns a spontaneous standing ovation mid-performance. Your Lie in April is sentimental – as Manga can be – yet is built around an authentic appreciation and celebration of classical performance from the perspective of the artist.

Yong, who trained at the Royal Academy of Music, makes his Kōsei a classic loveable geek whose talents create admiring resentment among the competition, but Yong keeps Kōsei just the right side of sweetly inept, unable to recognise the feelings of others. Kobayashi displays a powerful vocal in her professional debut so although her character is too good to be true, Kōsei and Kaori become a couple to root for.

The longer second Act starts to drift as too many plot points need to be resolved and could lose a song or two to match the tighter storytelling of Act One, but in wearing its big heart on its sleeve, Your Lie in April is fresh and appealing.

Runs until 21 September 2024

The Reviews Hub Score

Breezy escapism

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The Reviews Hub - London

The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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