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Romance Romance review at Above the Stag, London – ‘heartfelt performances’

The cast of Romance Romance at Above the Stag, London. Photo: PBG Studio
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Smartly reframing Barry Harman’s whimsical 1987 musical Romance Romance for a contemporary audience, this tight and tender version is full of wit and warmth. With an all-male cast and a few altered pronouns, the play’s two unconnected narratives, set 100 years apart, become a diptych of relatable gay love stories.

The first of these follows two wealthy bachelors in fin-de-siecle Austria, falling in love under false pretences as they pose as impoverished lovers. The second jumps to the modern day, where a pair of college friends consider embarking on an affair.

Despite the characters’ crashing selfishness, this is a show with real heart. Director Steven Dexter loads each sequence with humour, while the choreography is crisp and, given the intimacy of the space, ambitious, featuring spritely waltzes and sudden polka steps.

Leaning on flutes and clarinets, Keith Herrmann’s sugary score tends to fade into the background, a pillow for the action rather than an intrinsic part of it. Though the songs may not be the most memorable, they’re sung with skill and emotion here.

As sensitive dreamer Valentin, Jordan Lee Davies shows off a great range and a delicate yet powerful voice. Opposite him, Blair Robertson nails the first rush of infatuation in breathless, syllable-packed number Great News.

Alex Lodge, meanwhile, brilliantly balances sentimentality and desire as uncomfortable monogamist Sam, his flirtatious posing falling away for plaintive solo Words He Doesn’t Say. It’s a moment of vulnerability that pinpoints the difference between enduring love, and mere romantic notions.

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Cleverly reworked musical gains new depth thanks to some playful and heartfelt performances