Review: ASPECTS OF LOVE, Lyric Theatre

An outdated musical about incest, grooming, and promiscuity that didn't need to be exhumed.

By: May. 26, 2023
Review: ASPECTS OF LOVE, Lyric Theatre
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Review: ASPECTS OF LOVE, Lyric Theatre Andrew Lloyd Webber isn’t having the good few years he perhaps expected to have. After Cinderella closed in a hurry in London last year, its Bad iteration will go dark on Broadway next week after another slew of controversy and negative press.

But the West End will never be rid of the Baron, whose 1979 musical Aspects of Love (lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart) has now reopened in a revival directed by Jonathan Kent. Michael Ball, whose career was essentially launched by this same piece, goes back to the material in an older role, while the other billed cast features Laura Pitt-Pulford, Jamie Bogyo, and Danielle De Niese.

With new orchestrations by Tom Kelly, the heavy presence of storylines that revolve around grooming, incest, strange romantic entanglements, and a dash of queerbaiting make the show a properly weird affair. We follow French actress Rose for two decades while her suitors mellowly sing dramatic tunes about their longing hearts. That’s until her daughter Jenny takes the scene and falls for her mother’s lover, who’s also her father’s nephew and her own direct cousin. If you’re up for an expensive-looking, rather shallow, traditional musical with a great score and are ready to overlook a highly inappropriate plot, this is it.

The music is sweeping and tips into an operatic flair delivered by an extraordinary company, but the story is what it is. Based on David Garnett’s 1955 novella, the show is a grand ol’ production that burns out too quickly and can’t avoid the 21st Century. It proves that no matter how much money is thrown at something, you can’t bury certain problems. We’ve moved on from a place where it was acceptable for a 26-year-old Garnett to say, at the birth of his ex-lover’s child, that he would marry the baby he’d just seen being born and then go on to do just that.

This rendition of Aspects of Love is, however, a wonder of stagecraft. An intricate system of pulleys and rolling tracks moves gorgeous designs by John McFarlane. Backdrops painted according to specific art styles dominate the stage and the odd projection moves the action across their European idyll. The unfinished pencil drawings, watercolour paintings and gouache landscapes become equal characters to the actors they host. Kent uses black panels to frame the set, reducing the visuals into close-ups and forcing the audience to focus on isolated quadrants of the proscenium in a series of snapshots. The result is a dreamlike scenario, a remembered memory of a long time ago. This directive choice is, though, inconsistent.

After being completely removed from realism, Kent randomly decides to spotlight the orchestra twice while the lovers frolic in the French countryside, harshly bringing us back to the pretence of theatre. Videos of modern-day Venice also bafflingly feature while the characters are supposedly in post-war times. The starry cast (who, however, wouldn’t be known to mainstream audiences) and outstanding visuals are enough of a distraction from the ethics and morals of it all, but the project remains all brawn and no brain.

Ball is an exceptional George and Bogyo (who’s only at his first job after graduating drama school and jumping straight into Moulin Rouge! The Musical as Christian) reconfirms himself as leading man material. Laura Pitt-Pulford is perfectly cast as the romantically pragmatic Rose, giving a vulnerable performance as a character who’s solid in her indecisiveness. To end the love-square (sometimes it’s a triangle but it’s mostly the four of them on and off), Danielle de Niese is a headstrong Giulietta with a strong emotional melodic delivery. One of the few fully choreographed numbers, Denni Sayers gives her song “Hand Me the Wine and Dice” a sort of West Side Story choreography that doesn’t quite fit in, but revives the attention and prevents an inevitable lull.

Kent’s direction is interesting but leans into melodrama, with Ball offering some glitzy big-name introspection and the plot itself overflowing into sexual ambiguity and implied promiscuity. Aspects of Love is, essentially, an indefensibly problematic musical soap opera that looks exquisite but didn’t need to be revived. The cohesively taut score doesn’t allow for any truly catchy tunes that will be whistled on the train back home, the ending is still deeply anticlimactic and flat, and the themes are incredibly questionable, but the production looks and sounds unfortunately gorgeous. It remains an unjustifiable choice.

Aspects of Love runs at the Lyric Theatre until 11 November.

Photo credit: Johan Persson


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