Review: Love Story, Union Theatre

“Hey, I never liked it when you cried”

The Howard Goodall season at Sasha Regan’s Union Theatre continues with a revival of what could possibly be one of my favourite new musicals of recent times so no pressure there then. It is a tricky show to get right though, Stephen Clark’s book (from Erich Segal’s original story) speeds through the entire life of this tragic relationship at a relentless pace and so care does need to be taken to ensure the audience is fully engaged from the off and are kept fully onboard throughout.

In some way, the overall approach to Love Story here lacks the kind of propulsive energy that Clark’s book sorely needs. Regan curiously leaves lots of dead space in and around her scenes, far too many moments of awkward silence during transitions which are difficult in such a small space as this – the impact of Jenny communing with the spirit of her dead mother is somewhat muted by the sound of her heels as the ghost walks away…

Victoria Serra as Jenny Cavilleri has a lovely energy about her though, her self-possessed sparkiness tempered with a sweetness that is hugely endearing, especially when conveying the all-encompassing love that leads her to sacrifice so much. Against her, David Albury’s Oliver Barratt IV has a beautifully rich tone to his voice that is highly attractive to listen to; however when not singing, the eloquence of his expression doesn’t quite match his vocal work.

Consequently, the show doesn’t quite have the emotional impact it reaches for. The relationship with Jenny’s father Phil, played her by Neil Stewart, is full of typical Latin warmth but the corresponding (and comparatively underwritten) one with Séamus Newham’s Oliver Barratt III lacks any convincing emotional depth, thus robbing the show of what ought to be a powerful final moment.

Inga Davis-Rutter’s musical direction from the piano does much to cultivate the yearning atmosphere of this love story where possible though, her three band-mates giving Goodall’s glorious score a respectful treatment. And the work of the ensemble is also strong – the harmonies of Deborah Poplett, Ellie Ann Lowe and Grace Osborn open the show gorgeously in ‘What Can You Say?’, and it’s one of the score’s few weaknesses that it doesn’t allow for more ensemble involvement.

Running time: 2 hours (with interval)
Booking until 25th October

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