Andrew Lloyd Webber’s chamber piece is often overlooked alongside big hitters like Cats, Phantom of the Opera, and Evita, but it does include one of his finest scores, and so it is a pleasure to watch a new adaptation of this complex musical of love, direct from the Hope Mill Theatre in Manchester.
The majority of the cast have travelled south with this show, with the exception of Madelena Alberto, who joins as Giulietta, and Eleanor Jackson, who fulfils a number of peripheral roles throughout.
Alex (Felix Mosse), 17, sends flowers to the older actress Rose (Kelly Price), who is managed by the caring Marcel (Minal Patel). She goes away with Alex to a villa which turns out to be his uncle George’s (Jerome Pradon), who himself has a mistress in Venice (Alberto). George sees Rose in a dress his dead wife once wore and she leaves Alex for him.
She moves in, and Alex returns in a couple of years to find her installed as “Madame” at the villa. They get involved again, and George thinks Alex is best for her; she has other ideas. George goes broke, and Rose proposes. Giulietta is “best man”, and after a lingering kiss, it is implied the three live together in a menage a trois. Rose gives birth to a daughter, Jenny (Eleanor Walsh).
Then in Act Two, we have fast-forwarded a number of years, with Jenny on the brink of womanhood, Rose acting in films and having a lover, Hugo (Jason Kajdi), and George rapidly ageing. When Alex returns he finds himself attracted to Jenny, but Rose is also toying with him, and it can only end in disaster.
Finally, we go full circle to the funeral procession and wake which begins this show, marking the death of George, and Alex and Giulietta go off together, leaving Rose alone and desperate, and Jenny bereft.
The story, of course, is preposterous and as an advert for polygamy or polyamory, keeps things firmly in the family. The score is delicious, and beautifully performed, especially by Price, who completely nails the big number for Rose, “Anything But Lonely”, and Alberto, who shows her range in “There is More to Love” and “Hand Me The Wine and The Dice”.
Pradon convinces as the old lothario who parties with his women and then becomes frustrated with his own mortality, and his delivery of George’s big songs, “Other Pleasures” and “The First Man You Remember” (George sees his daughter in that dress and seems to slip into the past) is nicely judged, if a little forceful in places.
As Alex, Mosse acts well both as the petulant child-man and the embarrassed recipient of his young cousin’s affections, but he is the most selfish character on the page; showing no real redemption. It seems clear in his exchange with Guilietta that he will return to claim Jenny and cause more upset in due course. He’s perhaps not unlike his uncle in that, living for today, and damn us all.
Walsh’s Jenny is a force of nature as a childish teenager, and a confused young woman: a role which is hard to get right. It’s a pity she has one of the worst vocal lines (“I saw what you were doing with your new Italian friend”). I’m not sure whether the line “No one said that Romeo was a monster” has gone, but if it has, I miss it just as much as the original setting for “She’d Be Far Better Off With You”, which has now become a quartet for George, Alex, Rose, and their maid (but retains the great lyric, “You’ve dined with Garbo … translated La Bo/heme”).
The set and staging is cleverly done for a small space, with lighting cues, dancing stage resets, and musical moments to evoke a change of scene and time. “Falling”, in particular, the quartet in which Rose, George, Alex and Jenny lament their emotional states, works well in the simplicity of a couple on each side of the stage, seated at the audience tables.
Those tables, incidentally, may cause problems for those of you in row B looking directly front of the stage, and be aware there are times where your view of the action will be restricted. Perhaps a lesson to be learnt in the future for the venue, although the idea of audience members getting a closer view of the action is to be applauded.
I have so many questions about a show I know so well (having seen several productions over the years):
- If George is Alex’s guardian, where has Alex been getting his income from and where has he been living?
- Why doesn’t George marry Guilietta?
- Why does Rose agree so quickly to go with Alex? The villa?
- Does Rose really love George?
- Does the telegram from Marcel which shortens Alex and Rose’s fortnight really come from George?
- If Alex suspects Rose has gone to George, why is he so surprised to see her as Madame of the house two years later?
- Why does George agree to marry Rose if he is broke and she has no money other than from her career?
- Why was Rose so quick to sleep with Alex again if she is so happy?
- If Rose needs to work to bring in money when does she stop to have a baby?
- When Alex visits Rose at the theatre in Act Two he hasn’t seen her for twelve years, but Jenny is thirteen?
- If George hasn’t kept track of Alex, how does Alex know about Jenny?
- Where has Alex been serving in the Army?
- If Alex stays chez George for two years, how come he never meets Guilietta?
- If the age of consent is 15 in France, why is everyone so protective about Jenny?
- Could Alex be Jenny’s father?
- Does George have a sexual obsession with his own daughter?
- Why has Rose taken up with Hugo?
- Why did Rose never get involved with Marcel?
- Why doesn’t Alex just leave if he wants to control his urges?
- Why doesn’t George ask him to leave if he is so worried?
- Once George has died, why don’t Rose and Guilietta set up home together?
- Why is Guilietta’s love life so complicated?
- Why does Alex push Rose away at the end of “Anything But Lonely”?
- Why does Alex end up with Guilietta?
- Will Alex go back for Jenny?
Nothing in the show resolves any of this, but despite the plot holes and clear confusion, this remains an excellent musical which deserves reappraisal. Welcome back, Aspects. Don’t stay away so long again.