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Review - 'Love Story' at Cadogan Hall 2010

Peter Brown
Peter Brown

Time to arm yourselves with a ream of two of tissues if you intend visiting this unashamed tear-jerker, a musical version of the book by Erich Segal that became a money-hoovering film in 1970. Or maybe you don't succumb so easily to the guile of melodrama?

The story concerns two students, Jenny Cavilleri (Emma Williams) and Oliver Barrett (Michael Xavier). Oliver is from a family who have enough wealth to buy Japan, while Jenny's father scrapes by making pasta for a living. When Oliver takes Jenny home to meet Mom and Dad, it's clear that Jenny is not exactly the flavour of the month in the intended brides' department. But in spite of his parents' opposition, Oliver marries Jenny and he's cut off from the river of cash that supports him. No matter, love will find a way and, lo and behold, it does. Olly finishes graduate school in the top echelon and promptly gets a job in a swanky New York law firm and all seems rosy. Then Jenny falls victim to leukaemia. Cue dramatic music and you hardly need a smart phone to know what's coming next!

This version is mercifully short at around 95 minutes, and that means the pace is brisk to put it mildly - well, at least you've got the rest of the evening to wallow in new-found misery, crying your eyes out over your favourite tipple. But the pace is almost too fast-moving for us to feel much in the way of real empathy with the characters, though it is also an issue with the depth of the plot which lacks significant layers.

If you're going to dramatise a story that wrenches our basic human emotions into blubbering, you have to handle it with care and a little dignity. And that is more or less the way that Rachel Kavanaugh directs. The set is almost virginally white, and the orchestra reside in full view at the back of the stage for the duration. Scene changes are affected by men in suits and the overall impression is one of refined gentility, which doesn't sit quite so easily with the period when Jenny and Olly are supposed to be living just above the poverty line. Still, it works for much of the time, and our imaginations can fill in the detail.

The string-dominated orchestra add to the gentility, but Howard Goodall's score is rather repetitive and one-dimensional, even if the tunes are hummable and easy on the ear. The singing is more than good enough, and I particularly enjoyed Emma Williams's distinctive vocal qualities.

Towards the end, I did indeed detect a few snivels in the area where I was sitting, and several people seemed to be suffering from red-eye as they mooched rather sombrely out of the theatre. It's said that crying is actually good for you, and there's no doubt that there are people who love to see a show just to have a good cry at the end.

This version of 'Love Story' is certainly better than the film, but it's still as blatant in terms of it's intentions and strategy - the basic premise being 'make people and cry and they'll flock to see it in droves'. That may have been true in the past, but I'm not so sure that there are enough people who are quite so gullible any more. At Harvard, apparently, new students are shown the film version in order to jeer and mock the 'maudlin, old-fashioned and just plain schlocky' moments that it contains. Even given this reinvigorated version, I can understand those sentiments.

"A polished show that is pleasing, sometimes affecting, but never truly captivating."
Henry Hitchings for The Evening Standard

"Even I am prepared to admit that Rachel Kavanaugh’s stylish production is superior to the soppy film."
Charles Spencer for The Daily Telegraph

"The characters remain only mildly engaging with scenes and time passing so swiftly that you end up not really caring about anyone."
Paul Vale for The Stage

External links to full reviews from popular press
Daily Telegraph

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