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Aspects of Love: Southwark Playhouse

February 13, 2019

(seen at the afternoon performance on 29th January 2019)

Like many others, I was left in despair with the original London production. To call it a let-down wasn’t even close. The later Gale Edwards touring revival was far superior. I was older too, with a few more of my own aspects on the clock. Re-visiting the show for the first time after around 25 years, and with further aspects explored, turned out to be an interesting experience.

Katy Lipson of Aria Entertainment, Hope Mill Theatre and Jim Kierstead have pulled out all the stops mounting a lavish production. Jason Denvir’s set and costumes are outstanding, Aaron J Dootson clearly understands the light of the Pyrenees as well as the technical stuff of producing magical theatre effects.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle in his programme notes admits never having seen a production of the show, and takes a fresh approach. He is mostly successful, in particular bringing out individual character detail lost in larger and faster-moving versions. The problem is that original director Trevor Nunn realised the show needed a cinematic sweep and cohesion. He was ultimately sunk by over-staging (as was leading lady Ann Crumb, alas) but Gale Edwards picked up that baton and succeeded. Here, O’Boyle’s dancing scene-change interludes as chairs and tables are flung about become tiresome and detract rather than assist the atmosphere he otherwise creates rather well.

The story too seems to have regressed in acceptability in the current moral climate. Richard Stilgoe famously turned down the lyricists job as he didn’t want to write about such immoral people. In these #metoo conscious times, the tale of a 17 year old boy seducing / being seduced by an older woman, who in turn is seduced by the boy’s older uncle (who is having an affair with an Italian sculptress) but marries the actress and has a daughter whom, at 15 the original boy is possibly seduced by (her mother has a lover too, as does dad)… well… you get the idea.

Luckily, the cast are mostly outstanding. As young man Alex, Felix Mosse loses round one “Love Changes Everything” to James Nicholson’s crazily reverberative sound system. Luckily, he goes on to not just charm but reveal increasing maturity as the show continues.

Initial object of his desires Rose (Kelly Price) has a calculating hardness and vulnerability in equal measure. “Anything But Lonely” is her finale showstopper, and she means every word, a tribute to her characterisation that the lyric sums her up exactly.

Mistress Giuletta (Madalena Alberto) provides the other show-stopping number “Hand Me The Wine and The Dice” with Sam Spencer-Lane’s choreography hitting and exceeding West End heights with a talented company’s energy so late in the show.

Elder seducer Uncle George Dilingham (Jerome Pradon) is delivered with studied panache. Pradon’s determination to age disgracefully is impressively achieved with ageing before our eyes – a change from brash to reflective “Other Pleasures” about his young daughter is a quiet higlight.

Daughter Jenny (Eleanor Walsh) follows a similar pattern from particularly young to not-quite-mature woman. Walsh has us engage with her hurt and confusion, her final pose with her mother a fitting frame to the show.

In minor roles, Minal Patel made a decent producer of Marcel Richard, his pride in his final smart suit obvious. Housekeeper Elizabeth (Julia J Nagle) shares a lovely vocal moment, while lover Hugo (Jason Kajdi), Jerome (Jack Churms) and Waitress (Eleanor Jackson) are particularly sound in both character roles and as dancers.

A difficult show to present, this team managed to create something to be quite proud of. If it lacked some emotional depth of previous productions, that was down to the inferior revised script they were forced to use and also changing times making the story less palatable for the moment. Still, impressive and probably the last professional production to happen for a while. If so, it’s as good a memory of a happy moment as any, and one worth making.

 

4 stars.

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