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Saturday, 2 August 2014

ACT - Aspects of Love

ACT Theatre Company
(Dunstable Rep Theatre - July 2014)

Someone said to me in the bar, I know not who but my concentration levels were flagging by then, that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love is a bit of a marmite musical. You either love it or hate it, he says superfluously. I mused on this, cerebral soul that I am. May be true for avid Webber fans but for the rest of us, I am not so sure. I neither loved it nor hated it. I fell more into the camp of absorbed and irritated. Absorbed by a storyline which flagged up endless possibilities of the human condition and, ultimately, irritated by its copping out of their resolve. I am not sure whose collar I should finger, novelist, composer, or director but I do know, believe me, that if you have a bloody great subtext clomping across the stage in hobnails boots it ain’t a bad idea to hint at its presence. This Sondheim-lite musical, for all its entertainment, never did. Or if it did, I missed it.
I should think by now that I have completely lost you. If you did not see it. So let me summarise, and I mean summarise, the complex permutated plot. Rose is a struggling actress, Alex an avid teenage fan. They meet, they bonk, they part. Two years later they meet and bonk again and, skipping over lots of peripheral bits, Rose proposes to and marries Uncle George. Alex’s Uncle George, not hers. There may be hints of incest in this play but not in that quarter. Many years later Rose is now a celebrated actress and Alex has a moustache. Not much to show for twelve years of soldiering but life is like that. Rose has a twelve year old daughter, note the age, and incipient youthful yearnings herald a reprise of earlier drama. Three years later the daughter, Jenny, throws herself at cousin Alex and George dies. I think the two facts are related. Rewriting the script, the plot lines and dates point you in that direction I says in my defence, the demise of George could now release skeletons from numerous cupboards. Is Jenny Alex’s daughter? Is such a thing possible? Does Alex consider it? A rich stream of angst is sadly and tantalisingly left un-mined. Selfish and self centred Rose wants a new lover; Alex declines and goes off with one of those peripheral bits referred to earlier. The possibilities of an honourable man sacrificing all is realised as a self centred shit finding an easier and more accommodating lay. I said I was irritated.
So, as the saying goes in such matters, how did they do? Pretty well actually, given its challenge certainly worth four stars. The show is all music and singing and, to Sarah Farrar’s splendid accompaniment, the performers trilled exceptionally well. Jenna Ryder Oliver’s actress Rose was never less than watchable and if I jibbed a bit at her funeral attire, that was my only caveat. She sang this difficult piece with strength and style and her acting etched a woman who, selfishly, used all around her. Jaymes Sygrove also sang his Alex with style and passion and, whenever the script allowed, created hints of subtle depth. His ‘Love Changes Everything’ musical theme trotted on stage far too many times for my ear but the fault for that lies firmly at the door of Mr Lloyd-Webber. Stuart Farrar adopted a nice easy style to the lecherous Uncle George and his eyes signalled many bedrooms and, late on, a look of fatherly protective hate at the hapless Alex that could have stopped a train. He also, for good measure, gave us a sincerely touching ‘Other Pleasures’ which pleased for its simplicity.
The fourth main character in the musical chairs of sexual shenanigans is an Italian sculptress with the splendid name of Giuletta Trapani. I assume she was Italian as with her name and looks she would have certainly been out of place in Grimsby. Her latent lesbianism was marginalised almost to the point of extinction and this enigmatic character, lover of Uncle George and anyone else who took her fancy, hovered on the edges of the central trio in true peripheral bit style. I reckon his Lordship did not have a serious clue what to do with her. But he gave her a couple of good numbers, ‘Hand me the Wine and the Dice’ being one of the musical highlights, and in the superb Anna Carter-Brown an actress you could not take your eyes off. A beautiful performance, beautifully judged, and expertly presented. I could have warmed my socks on her.
We also got very pleasant Jennys from Rachel Ridout as the twelve year old with fetching pigtails and from Charlotte Tabert as her more mature self. The confusions of sexual awakenings were nicely conveyed in the latter and, whoever was her dad, the drawing of metaphorical daggers did not surprise. Alan Clarke’s Hugo was suitably decorative and useless, as all gigolos should be except in the important department, and Paul Rogers fretted and flustered to some effect as the almost equally useless actor-manager Marcel. In the even smaller roles Frances Hall impressed for fine singing and the realism of her homely housekeeper and ensemble player Reece Lawton scored numerous brownie points for a variety of roles. His clown juggled his balls beautifully and there aren’t many ways you can say that.
I admire ACT Theatre Company, always have, and I ain’t going to knock Alan Clarke for trying something different in the musical stakes. There are only so many Oklahamas and Guys and Dolls a feller can take. And for us non musical types a play with music can have a lot going for it. But this one had more scene changes than you could shake a stick at and, commendably quick as they were, they underlined the longeurs of the evening for those with limited attention spans. Thankfully to carry an interesting dramatic plot that ultimately short-changed it had a pretty strong group of performers and beautiful, and vital, piano accompaniment from maestro Sarah Farrar and her admirable assistant Clare Hood. The whole knitted quite nicely for me even if, when I left, the only tune I was humming was the one lamenting the loss of an ultimately satisfying plot. Better than Love Changes Everything’ any day.
Roy Hall