Aspects of Love review at Southwark Playhouse, London – ‘a strong, stripped-back production’
Aspects of Love is responsible for the success of Michael Ball. Its big tune, Love Changes Everything, made him a star. But, weirdly this anthemic, stentorian 11 o’clock number comes on at 7.30. It’s the first song in the show – though it’s later wheeled out a number of times.
This is one of many odd things in what is a pretty odd musical. Written in 1989, between Phantom and Sunset Boulevard, Aspects of Love explores changing mores across mid 20th century Europe. Based on David Garnett’s novella, it follows young Alex, his uncle, their lover and his cousin, across 12 years while dissecting love in all its forms.
It’s an unwieldy show and has been relatively neglected. Since its premiere, directors have been paring it back and back. In a production transferring to Southwark Playhouse from the Hope Mill in Manchester, where exciting things are happening in fringe musical theatre, director Jonathan O’Boyle has taken this tendency to its most extreme point. Full orchestra becomes two keyboards and percussion; 39 scene changes become a single set. It’s a decently pruned revival – even if doesn’t quite fill this new space.
In contrast to Ball’s bombast, Felix Mosse’s Alex is something of a whisperer. His over-enunciated voice seems a bit wispy; in general, even though the big melody lines are great, there’s a lack of precision from the main cast, especially in the tricky harmonising during the duets.
Madalena Alberto, joining the cast for this transfer, brings the right amount of elegance and glamour to the show. All the actors have to play a wide range of ages, but most of them – especially Jerome Pradon’s George and Kelly Price’s Rose – settle into their older selves much better than the younger versions.
Jason Denvir’s design, a wall of cornflower blue shutters, backlit in various shades of sunset, is sumptuous and rather gorgeous. Other aspects of the design and direction are less effective: there are too many tables and chairs danced on and off, or twirled over the heads of stagehands in an – unsuccessful – effort to soften the sheer number of scene transitions.
O’Boyle’s stripped down production does at least give a real sense of the show. Sometimes that’s not an advantage: it reveals a plot that crawls along at some points and rushes at others, a lot of very average recitative, and a few absolute lyrical howlers care of Don Black and Charles Hart. (The repetition of “love will never, never let you be the same” comes to feel pretty lazy).
But, in much the same way, the spare production also highlights just how good Lloyd Webber was in this fertile period. Not just Love Changes Everything, but in other crackers like Anything But Lonely and The First Man You Remember.
The new space may well be the issue, because it feels like there’s a really good production in here, albeit one with a few too many ragged edges.
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