My last theatre trip of the year (at the Duchess - in a nice bit of symmetry also the theatre where I saw the first of my 200 shows in 2010) and I have a cold. At least a runny nose wasn't going to make me stand out as this was the new musical version of Erich Segal's Love Story, a show entirely designed to have the audience honking into their hankies for the last twenty minutes. It's unsubtle in its attempts to tear-jerk, but at least it's unashamedly so (it starts and ends with the cast asking "What can you say about a 25-year-old girl WHO DIES!!!!!?") Fortunately everything else about it is restrained, from Peter McKintosh's understated white set to the handful of musicians who take their place on it shortly before the show starts. Stephen Clark and Howard Goodall's adaptation relies almost entirely on its lead couple and fortunately Emma Williams and Michael Xavier are up to the task. Williams steals the show although to be fair she is gifted with the spikier of the two characters. The supporting cast barely get a look in with the exception of Peter Polycarpou as Jenny's father, and to a lesser extent Richard Cordery as Oliver's. (Polycarpou has morphed into David Suchet so I spent the whole time terrified that he was about to start towelling off. I also had to triple-check the programme to make sure that Jan Hartley, as Oliver's mother, wasn't secretly Cheryl Baker.)
The score does sneak in the famous theme tune although, with Howard Goodall doing the music, we unfortunately don't get the whole show sung to the Blackadder theme tune. Which would have been AMAZE. The actual music is pleasant enough, if lacking in a Breakaway Pop HitTM - the strongest moment is a song about pasta. While I can be profoundly moved by theatre, romance isn't realy the genre to do that for me and this isn't the show to change my opinion. From my perspective it's inoffensive enough, not the saccharine affair it could so easily have been. I'm clearly not the target audience though and for people who do like a big weepy this is spot on (and, in the smallest of the original West End theatres, perfectly suited to the space it's in.) On the way out I overheard a woman saying they should give away a box of tissues with every ticket; although my favourite comment came from an American teenager: "I think I just watched the Nicholas Sparks template on stage."
Love Story by Erich Segal, Stephen Clark and Howard Goodall is booking until the 30th of April at the Duchess Theatre.