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 The Theatreguide.London Review

Aspects of Love
Menier Chocolate Factory       Summer 2010

This revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1989 musical has a number of fresh touches, not least the reduced scale that keeps it from being overwhelmed by grand production effects as the original was.

But I fear that most of the changes conspire to expose just how thin the musical is, and both fans and those coming to it for the first time are likely to be mildly disappointed.

Based on a novel by David Garnett, this sung-through show (lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart) follows the convoluted romantic and sexual entanglements of a small group of people who passionately love each other in just about every possible permutation.

A young man is obsessed with an older actress, who becomes the mistress and then wife of his rich uncle without ever fully breaking with the nephew.

Uncle meanwhile has a second mistress on the side, as his wife has a second live-in lover. Years later, still in love with the actress, the nephew becomes entangled with her precociously sexual teenage daughter, and finally tries to escape by running off with - well, you get the idea.

Garnett's intention, implied in his title, was to explore all the forms passion takes, and if you think he missed any, it's just because I simplified my summary.

You would think that the small-scale staging, awash in Lloyd Webber's melodies, would intensify the hothouse atmosphere of all this rampant sexuality, but director Trevor Nunn has made a number of choices that keep this from happening.

Chief among them - and I cannot understand this is deliberately underplaying or actively fighting the music.

Most of the first act is little more than recitativ, half-spoken dialogue to an underlying musical score that keeps resisting any impulse to break into actual melody.

But the few real songs that are there, like Seeing Is Believing and A Memory Of Happy Moments, are underplayed or rushed through, rather than being allowed to stand out and capture us.

Even the show's big hit, Love Changes Everything, is sabotaged by the director, who has clearly guided Michael Arden to act the song more than sing it, searching out every pause or emphasis resulting from a freshly-realized thought.

While this may make the moment more 'real' and more satisfying for the actor, it has the effect of fighting the music, interrupting the flow of the melody and never letting the song soar.

To be fair, I can see part of what Trevor Nunn is getting at. In 1989 some of the characters' pain at being unable to escape their passions was cushioned by the lush melodies, and we do get more of a sense of the torment of love this time around.

But what do you come to a Lloyd Webber musical for, if not lush melodies?

That this is a deliberate (if sorely misguided) directorial choice is shown by the fact that other potentially big numbers, the actress's Anything But Lonely or the mistress's The Wine And The Dice, are undercut in exactly the same way, by treating them like spoken dialogue and fighting the melody.

Anything But Lonely doesn't register as a song at all, and The Wine only comes alive when the singer shuts up and lets the dancers take over.

Of all the set-piece songs, only the uncle's First Man You Remember is allowed to glow as the lovely song it is, such a sweet moment that we may blind ourselves to the fact that the only real love song in the show is sung by a father to his teenage daughter.

Perhaps some truly bravura performances would have helped, but while all the principals - Michael Arlen (nephew), Katherine Kingsley (actress), Dave Willetts (uncle), Rosalie Craig (mistress) - are OK, none is more than that, and I can't believe that you would miss much if you happened to see an understudy in any of those roles.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  Aspects Of Love - Menier Chocolate Factory 2010