Aside from the rightful ascension of Laura Pitt-Pulford to West End leading lady, there’s little else to commend the misguided revival of Aspects of Love at the Lyric Theatre
“Do you still like omelettes?”
Andrew Lloyd Webber clearly has a chokehold over UK theatre producers, no matter his behaviour towards his own companies on either side of the Atlantic. And yet we’re just as culpable as audience members who keep turning up, his work so closely entwined with a wider cultural understanding of what musical theatre is, or rather was. For better or worse, this revival of 1989’s Aspects of Love, with lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart, offers the opportunity to see all of that in action.
Based on a novella by David Garnett, the storyline follows the romantic entanglements over 20 years, of a an actress, a young soldier, his uncle, the uncle’s mistress and, most horrifyingly of all, the daughter of the actress and the uncle. In both the source and the original, Jenny (the daughter) was 15 at the point at which she was declaring love for the cousin who she has grown up with (who is also her mother’s former lover lest we forget), but now she’s 18, so everything is A-OK with this storyline now…
This kind of tinkering is also apparent musically, as Michael Ball – who played the soldier in 1989 but now takes on the uncle – once again gets to sing the breakout song ‘Love Changes Everything’ (so ubitiquous when I was a kid…). It’s a popular choice in the auditorium to be sure but it’s a cold-eyed creative decision that smacks of opportunism and salving large egos. On top of that, this is arguably one of ALW’s weakest scores, too reliant on too few motifs to carry us through a full length musical.
At the head of the production, director Jonathan Kent doesn’t offer enough to justify the revival of something with this much rejigging. A modish attempt at staging has a sliding video panel to assist in the multiple shifts in location, but the stock footage is shockingly generic, so very much at odds with the masterfully painted flats (from designer John MacFarlane) that eventually appear. A revolve is used uncertainly and inconsistently. Everything feels just sadly inconsequential.
The fireworks that come are in the moments where the hard endeavour of the performers breaks through. Ball is fine enough if a little close to self-satisfied, Jamie Boygo is pleasant enough as the soldier but Danielle de Niese is excellent in the sorely underwritten part of the mistress (they can give Michael Ball the ‘best’ song but they can’t give her another…?!). And Laura Pitt-Pulford ascends to the role of West End leading lady with all the star quality she has spent years cultivating, a performance of true musical and dramatic depth that deserves better surroundings.
The future of new British musical theatre is certainly bright (get to Southwark Playhouse now! or the Fortune or on the waiting list for this) but it isn’t to be found here, in a production of a horribly dated musical that panders to its 60-something star and its 70-something composer and asks us to accept its making light of grooming. This can’t be the way forward and yet producers, creatives and audiences keep on trundling through the door. See you in a few months to do it all over again for Sunset Boulevard…