As I've mentioned before I'm hardly an Andrew Lloyd Webber fan, but after last year's low-key revival of Sunset Boulevard
was surprisingly entertaining, I won't necessarily dismiss revivals of his shows out of hand, especially if they're similarly toned down. Plus this is on at the Menier Chocolate Factory, who you'd think would go all out to make up for what they recently inflicted on their regular audiences
. In fact the scaled-down nature of this production is very much the point, with original director Trevor Nunn back in charge, and letting us know in the programme that it had always been planned as an intimate musical, but by its West End launch in 1989 it had got spectacularly out of hand.
The story follows a young man, Alex, from 1947 to 1964, and the incredibly convoluted romantic relations between him and an older actress called Rose, who in turn leaves Alex for his uncle George, who is sort-of having an affair with sculptress Giulietta, who may in fact turn out to be perfect for Alex. Somewhere along the way there's also George and Rose's daughter Jenny, who at 15 is enamoured with the by-now-in-his-thirties Alex, and things get a bit icky. With a small band tucked to the side of the stage and a simple set (by David Farley) supplemented with (mercifully restrained) video projection, this does achieve an intimate tone, and it just about doesn't outstay its welcome, so Nunn's promise of scaling things down is kept; his other programme note about the balance of sound amplification is only intermittently true though, and the common problem of the band being set too loud over the singers' voices crops up now and again, especially over Michael Arden's Alex.
It's satisfying rather than a total revelation as a show overall, but the performances are pretty uniformly impressive; Katherine Kingsley as Rose is strong as is Rosalie Craig's Giulietta, also the performer closest to making me engage emotionally with the piece. Once the sound balance issues are sorted Michael Arden has a lovely voice too, and his English accent's pretty consistent; if I hadn't known beforehand that he's American I'm not sure I would have spotted it, the biggest clue is a rather clipped, deliberate delivery. The only time the accent properly slips is when he says "knobbly knees," but surely that's a phrase no American was born to say. Of course the other thing I knew in advance about Michael Arden is how a couple of years ago there were photos of him and Russell Tovey often being out together and seeming very friendly, which obviously by no means
is a reason to make assumptions.
But of course were you to make insane assumptions, it would be quite nice at least if on seeing Arden in the flesh I concluded he was nothing special - in a "there's hope for us all" way. This worked quite well for the first 20 minutes or so when I'd convinced myself he was a bit meh, until I noticed he was actually rather lovely, so I was whimpering a bit every time he turned up in a different military uniform. I think the turning point was when he took his shoes off and has very nice feet. In totally unrelated news, I think I need help.
Right, where were we? Basically, it's not earth-shattering but not a waste of time either. Although it being Lloyd-Webber it should probably go without saying that if you don't like the songs "Love Changes Everything" and "Seeing Is Believing" you may want to stay away, as their tunes turn up rather a lot.Aspects of Love
by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black & Charles Hart, based on the novel by David Garnett, is booking until the 26th of September at the Menier Chocolate Factory.