Aspects of Love at the Southwark Playhouse: ‘a courageous attempt to produce a show that is formally stunted’
London Student’s first theatre review of 2019 is the recently transferred production of Aspects of Love at the Southwark Playhouse. Anthony Walker-Cook reviews this tale of love and loss.
‘Nothing in the world will ever be the same.’ With its hints of incest and paedophilia, Aspects of Love feels like the estranged cousin of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musicals, and that’s saying something given one of them is about and acted by cats. Yet this staccato musical, recently transferred from Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre to the Southwark Playhouse, proves hypnotically enthralling.
Set across seventeen years between 1947 and 1964, Aspects of Love follows Alex (Felix Mosse), a fan of the French actress Rose Vibert (Kelly Price). As the two fall in love, their story is interjected by uncles, lovers, and Rose’s daughter, Jenny (Eleanor Walsh), and across the timespan of the play we watch both lives develop and separate only to eventually be reunited in what increasingly feels like a cruel act of fate.
Jonathan O’Boyle’s director’s note in the programme of Aspects of Love praises the show as a ‘celebration of a time of regeneration in the postwar era’. Certainly, Aaron Dootson’s lighting is soft and warm, yet I would offer a contrary reading of the play based on this production. In its repetition – both musically in the form of reoccurring motifs and scenically in parallel scenes – the world of Aspects of Love feels stunted and uncertain. Much like Alex and Rose, the music of this play led by musical director Richard Bates consistently feels underwhelming. Motifs are repeated to the effect where they feel deflated and the consistent layering of experience as the play progresses does not accretively add to the music.
This is furthered by the frenzied staging of the show. With their stiff frames and unnatural movements, the ensemble waiters feel more like the animations from The Polar Express (apologies for the Christmas movie reference, I am aware it’s January) and add little to what is meant to be a heady and romantic environment. Scene changes are too fast and exaggerated, and the swishing of chairs across the stage becomes boring in its frenzied reoccurrence.
Yet this might be forgiven had the leads provided a sense of lived (and loved) experience. ‘Love Changes Everything’, the anthem for this musical, must be incredibly difficult to sing: placed at the very beginning, it implies a life lived before the actor has even been able to experience any of Alex’s loss and joy, his temptations and his furor. Yet whilst Mosse’s singing is pleasant, on the night his Alex lacked the true sense of having a past, present or future with Rose.
However, as Rose Price puts in a fine performance, her ‘Anything But Lonely’ a complete triumph, though her character exhibits the annoying traits (read: infidelity, flightiness and mixmatched morals) of a female lead in a Richard Curtiss romcom. Also superb was Madalena Alberto as Giulietta, an Italian sculptress and lover of Alex’s uncle. Indeed, these are women we can easily fall in love with.
Aspects of Love revels in the particularity and lived representations of love the title suggests. Like all things, there are aspects of life and love that are best remembered and some that should be forgotten. In many respects this production is a courageous attempt to produce a show that is formally stunted. Love may change everything, but asking me to fall in love with this show is a step too far.
Aspects of Love is at the Southwark Playhouse until the 9th February, 2019.
Feature and production photograph credit: Pamela Raith.