Review - Aspects of Love at Southwark Playhouse
Andrew Lloyd Webber created what would be the biggest success of his career in 1986 when he scored the musically ravishing and sumptuous The Phantom of the Opera. For his first show after that, Aspects of Love - which premiered in the West End in 1989 - he used as his source another novel (this time by English writer David Garnett) of twisted, intricate romantic entanglements, but this time the canvas wasn't epic but far more intimate.
So it is ideally suited to the new, close-quarters treatment that it is now receiving at Southwark Playhouse in a production that has transferred from Manchester's Hope Mill Theatre (who also brought their terrific production of Pippin to this address last year). It's not the first time a chamber treatment has been applied to this show: its original director Trevor Nunn previously returned to the show in 2010 for a revised, smaller-scale staging at the Menier Chocolate Factory.
Jonathan Boyle's production reveals some of the show's vivid strengths but also some of its flaws: there's a repetitiveness to some of its scoring, that seems to calculatedly reprise some of the same themes again and again, particularly what would turn out to be the show's break-out hit "Love Changes Everything", which eventually makes you wish that it would change the tune, too.
It's also fatally difficult to warm to a show that is populated by so many relentlessly unlikeable characters, pursuing their selfish desires and blow the consequences. As they become trapped in their unhappiness, you feel that they reap what they have sowed.
It's like a musical La Ronde or Les Liaisons Dangereuses. What redeems it are some glorious songs, especially as gloriously sung by Kelly Price and Madelana Alberto as the two women - an actress and a sculptor - who fall in and out of love with a young man Alex, his much older uncle George, and (only fleetingly alluded to) each other. Price has long been a priceless presence in British musicals, equally adept at the ditzy comedy of Little Shop of Horrors (that I saw her play in Manchester) and a more delicate astringency, as she demonstrated in the Menier's A Little Night Music (that subsequently transferred to the Garrick). He rendition of the show's reflective closing song "Anything But Lonely" is both deeply felt and haunting and sums up the consequences of what we've seen unfold.
Alberto, who is a stunning interpreter of Lloyd Webber's anthemic repertoire who was a remarkable Eva Peron on tour and in the West End, has both delicacy and knowingness as Guiletta, who offers a heartstoppingly beautiful version of 'There is More to Love'.
Unfortunately, not everyone is quite as seriously charismatic as those two leads; while Michael Ball, who after appearing as Marius in the original Les Miserables became a star in his own right in this show, a particularly tough act to follow as Alex, the boyish-looking Felix Mosse is seriously overstretched. He's fine with the big belting notes required; it's paradoxically when he has to sing softer and more intimately that his insecurity shows. And French musical theatre star Jerome Pradon, cast as the English painter George, is more Gauloises than Dunhill.
As rearranged for just three musicians, the lush original scoring isn't quite as thrilling to the ears either. It reduces the impact of Lloyd Webber's frequently beautiful songs.
But there's still enough to enjoy to make a trip to Southwark worthwhile. Price and Alberto, and Eleanor Walsh in her professional debut as George and Rose's daughter Jenny, ensure that.
Aspects of Love is at Southwark Playhouse until 9th February.
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