Eyes meet. Hearts beat. Minds collide. Is love in the air? Valentine’s Day without a winged cherub firing arrows at love-struck humans would be like Romeo without Juliet and Becks without Victoria – or, indeed, Elton without David. But while Cupid works overtime on 14 February, theatregoers with romantic intentions on their way to a date with a West End show should call on the amorous services of that other young winged boy – Eros, the Greek god of love and sexual desire, who has resident status on his plinth at the Piccadilly Circus end of Shaftesbury Avenue.
It’s just up from here at the Apollo Theatre that a couple out on a Valentine’s date could easily become seduced by Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, with Kathleen Turner and Bill Irwin reprising their Broadway triumph. True, Edward Albee’s classic is more a hate story than a love story – a warning to romantics rushing headlong into a relationship. Plays carrying similar warnings include Honour at Wyndham’s Theatre, which sees Diana Rigg abandoned by her on-stage husband Martin Jarvis for a Valentine’s press night, and Southwark Fair, Samuel Adamson’s examination of metrosexual marital misdemeanors, previewing at the National.
But who wants a reality check on the most romantic night of the year? After all, Theatreland is one big tunnel of love. There’s glamour to be savoured, champagne to be sipped, flowers to be flourished, candle-lit meals to be relished, oversized limos to be hired, chocolates to be nibbled and, if Cupid scores a bulls-eye, hot hands to be linked in the darkness of an auditorium.
The Mousetrap aside, when you think of it, heart-throbbing turn-on moments for lovers are to be found in almost all West End shows. Take the unashamedly romantic The Woman in White at the Palace – imagine you’re love-struck Walter Hartright singing "I believe my heart/It believes in you/It's telling me/That what I see/Is completely true”. Or watching Les Miserables at the Queen’s, you too could be a real-life Cosette serenading Marius with: “A heart full of love/A night full of you/The words are old/But always true.”
Then there’s that love-struck scene in Guys and Dolls at the Piccadilly, when Sarah and Sky pour out their feelings with: “I'll know when my love comes along”. And in Mamma Mia! at the Prince of Wales, who wouldn’t get down on their knees the instant that the cast launches into “I do, I do, I do, I do, I do”.
By way of contrast, the underground lair sequence in The Phantom of the Opera, when the Phantom carries Christine to his bed while imploring “Help me make the music of the night”, surely says all there is to say about the horrors of unrequited love. If, like me, you tend to hide your wooing behind a mask of modesty, it helps to find an excuse for making some physical contact with your partner as a prelude to a kiss. I’ve often wondered why The Woman in Black isn’t full of shy singletons waiting for the ghostly apparition to appear. I mean, it’s the only scream-out-loud moment when you’re entitled to grab the person in the next seat.
A few days late, from 17 February, Frank Sinatra – well a 20-foot digital version of him – will be on the West End stage for the first preview of Sinatra at the London Palladium, hopefully crooning “My Funny Valentine”. Incidentally, with a name like Gareth Valentine, does the show’s music supervisor lead an entire life of romance?
By coincidence, there’s another Mr Valentine in the West End – the lovelorn dentist in You Never Can Tell at the Garrick. In 1991, George Bernard Shaw’s play was turned into a musical, called Valentine’s Day. This comedy of morals contains a romantic soft centre with lots of allusions to Shakespeare and plenty of laughs, though not nearly as many as in The Producers at Drury Lane – surely the only Valentine’s date show where it’s laugh at first sight.
Meanwhile, at the Novello Theatre, the Royal Shakespeare Company’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream includes the most appropriate message to round off a perfect Valentine’s night in Theatreland: "Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind, and therefore is winged Cupid painted blind". Trust that kid with the arrows to have the last word.
A version of this article also features in the February 2006 issue of our sister publication,Theatregoer Magazine, which is out in participating theatres this week –
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