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Romantics Anonymous review at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London – ‘an irresistible treat’

Carly Bawden and Dominic Marsh in Romantics Anonymous at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton Carly Bawden and Dominic Marsh in Romantics Anonymous at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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Ooh la la, quel delice! This musical, based on the 2010 French-Belgian film Les Emotifs Anonymes is utterly gorgeous.

Souffle-light and swooningly seductive, it’s a lip-smacking story of passion and chocolate, in which two timid souls dare to take the ultimate risk – falling deliciously, terrifyingly, deliriously in love.

Directed by Emma Rice – her final new production as artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe – Romantics Anonymous glows with the starry-eyed wonder that, at her best, she so effortlessly whips up. It melts your heart and tickles your fancy, leaving you giddy with laughter, tearful and elated.

The enchantment is instant, with actors in Breton-striped shirts and berets bustling among the audience, distributing squares of “chocolat magique”. One bite, we’re assured, and we will miraculously understand every word of the Gallic drama – and indeed, as we nibble, mellifluous French suddenly becomes English.

If you’re not already helplessly charmed, you soon will be, as Carly Bawden’s Angelique, a genius chocolatier, sings of the pleasures of her mouth-watering creations. Excruciatingly shy, she works under a pseudonym, as the mysterious Chocolate Savant. After the death of her fatherly confectioner partner – played with Maurice Chevalier-esque panache by Gareth Snook – she takes a job as a sales rep for an ailing chocolate factory.

Before you can say “ganache” she’s secretly revamping their stale sweeties and besotted with the geeky boss, Jean-Rene (Dominic Marsh), who’s as socially dysfunctional as she is.

You could see the show’s message about being brave enough to break the mould as a riposte to Rice’s detractors during her turbulent Globe tenure – but there’s not a sour note here. Lez Brotherston’s design wittily transforms the Playhouse into glittering Paris, with fairy lights and flourishes of neon.

Rice’s book is frothy, yet piquant, as Angelique and Jean-Rene blush, blunder and somehow fail, for an agonising age, to stumble into each other’s arms. Christopher Dimond’s lyrics trip winningly along to a score by Michael Kooman that whisks accordion waltzes into lush flavours of chanson, and Etta Murfitt’s choreography is blissfully twinkle-toed, embracing Fred and Ginger-style elegance as well as whirling, snooty restaurant waiters, twitchy, tic-ridden sufferers at Angelique’s anxiety support group, and a bungee-assisted finale that soars.

Bawden and Marsh make endearing misfits – even if a momentary plot cul-de-sac, in which they revert to rom-com cliche as baby-mad clingy chick and panicking commitment-phobe, prompts minor eye-rolling. There’s a gourmand’s selection of tasty cameos from the ensemble, too, among them Joanna Riding as Angelique’s sexpot maman and Snook as a formidable, flame-haired Italian signora, purveyor of bon bons and possessor of a voice that could raise the roof of La Scala. Enfin, an irresistible treat: yummy.

 

Verdict
Gorgeous, heart-melting musical romance makes a magical adieu from director Emma Rice
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