Last week saw the opening of Trevor Nunn's chamber revival of Aspects of Love at the Menier Chocolate Factory (15 July 2010, previews from 3 July).
The first major London revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Charles Hart’s 1989 musical – originally seen at the West End’s Prince of Wales Theatre, where it was also directed by Nunn – runs at the Menier’s 150-seat home in Southwark south London to 11 September 2010.
So was it a case of love at second sight for the critics?
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (five stars) – “Aspects of Love … an unconventional musical about deeply unconventional people ... A Mozartian construct of love and mis-directed passion ... The score, which is rich, lush, subtle and complex, uses recurring motifs from the big songs - 'Love Changes Everything,' 'Seeing is Believing' and 'Other Pleasures' - in an overall skein and texture of emotional commitment and crisis ... Nunn’s production - beautifully designed by David Farley against a Provencal beige background of panelling, doors and picture frames, manages fully to elide the recitative and the musical numbers so that the whole performance is, as it were, organically 'breathed' by the cast ... With virtually flawless acting throughout. The American actor Michael Arden, making a London debut, is a revelation ... and Katherine Kingsley comes fully into her kingdom with the tremendous, valedictory 'Anything But Lonely'... The ensemble’s the thing, and the production is fully integrated with the choreography of Lynne Page, the seductively minimalist new orchestrations by David Cullen, and the impeccable lighting of Paul Pyant: it’s a glinting gem of an evening.”
Dominic Cavendish in the Daily Telegraph (four stars) – “Aspects of Love is back and the question is not so much whether it has stood the test of time as whether it’s now in a condition to be properly appreciated … The answer is a resounding yes … The evening beats at an ardent, hard and fast pace, driving us from one scene to the next, one period to the next … and from one entanglement to the next ... Truth be told, the lyrics by Don Black and Charles Hart err on the bland side … Yet the way the conversation flows as song in a recitative fashion turns the exchanges into an elegant, witty and sophisticated meditation on questions about love … Nunn has cast superbly well. Michael Arden grows in stature as the square-jawed Englishman who suffers the agonies of unrequited devotion. Katherine Kingsley captivates as Rose, seduced by Alex’s rich, champagne-swilling Uncle George. Rosalie Craig excels as the latter’s sometime mistress Giulietta and Rebecca Brewer shows exceptional promise as the young girl who brings the romantic confusions full circle. Another hit for London’s brightest factory.”
Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard (five stars) – “The winning streak is back … The result of this stripped-down close work is nigh-on miraculous, with both Lloyd Webber’s score … and the narrative revealing themselves to be lush, romantic, sensuous and wrenching. The stand-out hit tune, 'Love Changes Everything', remains hauntingly beautiful... All three leads are faultless but Arden’s pure voice is a thing of particular joy. There is a danger … that there is only going to be one aspect of love on offer, and an increasingly overwrought one at that. Gradually, though, the action broadens out with the introduction of George and Rose’s daughter Jenny Rebecca Brewer and when it does, I’d recommend you keep a fresh packet of tissues handy … Above all … this musical doesn’t shy from being unashamedly romantic and all but drilling a direct and honest emotional response from us. I spent most of the second half in tears, and I’d go back for more in a heartbeat.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (three stars)
“While Trevor Nunn's production achieves a chamber intimacy befitting a story about Bloomsburyite bed-hopping, it still can't solve all the problems in the uncredited libretto… The musical suffers from a feverishly restless first half as it hurtles between Montpellier, Pau, Paris and Venice… What is fascinating is to see how the structural problems are reflected in the through-composed score… Lloyd Webber is a fine melodist, but in the first half no tune is allowed to settle, with the exception of the frequently repeated 'Love Changes Everything' … The musical eventually acquires a genuine emotional resonance … Nunn's production yields a stellar performance from Katherine Kingsley... Michael Arden... and Dave Willetts... are solidly professional rather than wildly exciting , but there is striking support from Rosalie Craig … It may not be my favourite Lloyd Webber show; but at least it's done here, thanks partly to David Farley's design and Paul Pyant's lighting, with the right wistful Anouilhesque elegance”
Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times (three stars)
“Trevor Nunn was last at this venue with a beautifully subtle staging of A Little Night Music… But this time Nunn doesn’t strike gold …the story is so thin… the show can’t convince that you have looked into the human heart… The musical’s best-loved song… “Love Changes Everything”. It’s a soaring, instantly hummable tune…the problem is…Love doesn’t change anything much about the rather narcissistic characters. The set…is simple and eloquently lit… Nunn’s staging is swift, precise and intimate…Michael Arden brings openness and a nice, dry wit to the part of Alex, and Katherine Kingsley’s sweet-voiced Rose suggests her fickleness disguises a postwar drive to survive. Dave Willetts makes the roguish George likable and Rosalie Craig’s fine Giulietta delivers a stirring paean to life. There are plenty of aspects to love here, but emotional engagement is hard to summon”