Review: Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic

Gorgeous chocolate-based musical Romantics Anonymous works another coup de foudre as it briefly returns to the Bristol Old Vic before a US tour

“What if we try and take a chance?
Whit if we simply shift our stance?
I’ll admit that just the thought of change terrifies me too.
But what if we try something new?”

In this remounting, Romantics Anonymous proves that rare thing – a show that can survive losing Joanna Riding from its cast. It’s a good couple of years since this musical adaptation of the French-Belgian film Les Émotifs Anonymes took the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse by storm and in the meantime, it has reached an almost mythic status among its devotees calling for a revival. This might not be what they had in mind but it’ll certainly do for now.

Wise Children and Plush Theatricals are taking the show on the road in the US, so this short opening stop at the Bristol Old Vic feels like a bit of a treat. For its new outing, Romantics Anonymous has been spruced up a bit – composer Michael Kooman and lyricist Christopher Dimond have added a couple of new songs and director and book writer Emma Rice has rejigged here and there too, whilst necessarily recasting some of her ensemble.

And the result is something which is just as a beguiling a confection as I remembered. Carly Bawden and Marc Antolin play a pair of introverted would-be lovers – both clearly into the other but both afflicted by the kind of social anxieties and shyness that makes them almost prisoners in their own lives. As she takes a job in his struggling factory,  theirs is a connection you can’t help but root for – it’s enough to make anyone émotif.

The songs are sweet without cloying, the staging is cute without being kitsch and further undercutting any hint of lingering sentimentality is a wry and witty sense of humour. This is best exemplfied by the expertly multi-roling ensemble as they whip effortlessly from waiter to therapy group member to food critic and more (Gareth Snook being the pick of the bunch once again). Let’s hope it isn’t two more years until we see it here again.  

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Photos: Steve Tanner
Romantics Anonymous is booking at the Bristol Old Vic until 1st February and then tours selected venues in the USA

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