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She Loves Me (Menier Chocolate Factory)

February 22, 2017

Seen at the Afternoon performance on 30th December 2016.

I have fond memories of the 1990s Savoy Theatre production, an elaborate turntable affair with Ruthie Henshall and John Gordon-Sinclair. Now, with Scarlett Strallen (Amalia) and Mark Umbers (Georg) to buy her ice-cream, could the magic live again on a far smaller stage?

The answer is an emphatic yes, and it’s at least partly down to director Matthew White’s decision to use British accents to delineate the “class” aspect of the show equal to the love story. Katherine Kingsley’s “common” Ilona is the lynchpin in this idea. Arguably one of the cleverest musical theatre performances of the year, her scenes not only register, but resonate throughout the evening as anchor to the concept.

Callum Howells (Arpad) – a delivery boy seeking advancement – is her male counterpart, more proof that in this show, it is the small roles driving the plot, and keeping it from diabetic-threatening supersweetness.

That isn’t to say the villain Kodaly (Dominic Tighe – nicely judged and balanced) doesn’t neatly spoil the atmosphere, but in general it’s as upbeat as perfumer Maraczek (a muted Les Dennis) could wish, to drum up business.

Some good designs from Paul Farnsworth keeps the action moving from shop to exterior to restaurant, and there’s a sense of light humour even in the darker moments. Strallen and Umbers extract every ounce of fun and fury from their characters – the “Ice Cream” scene is as highly effective as anyone could wish (though oddly Amalia is a member of British 1970s / 80s book club phenomenon BCA, going by the pile by her bed, but anyway)…

A lovely ensemble give Cory English’s restaurant waiter plenty to do, and later a choral to consumerism, again taking this series of meetings in new and fun directions.

Sure, there isn’t much book, or even much in the way of a hit score – “Ice Cream,” “Tonight At Eight” and “Twelve Days to Christmas” the best, “Good Morning, Good Day” and “Please Call Again” nice ear-worms. Still, it’s good-natured, with a few thrills and an expert cast under a sensible director.

Probably never a commercially viable revival in the West End, this proves it should have a life outside it, and this is a good a template as I could hope for. A lovely acquaintance renewed.

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