Love Story (Octagon Theatre, Bolton)
This chamber piece is beautiful and poignant with exemplary performances from Daniel Boys and Lauren Samuels.
Love Story may bring back memories (good or bad) of the 1970 film starring Ali McGraw and Ryan O'Neal. It sparked a rise in weepies such as The Champ and The Way We Were, followed by a sequel; Oliver's Story. But the piece began life as a novel and this little seen musical does full justice to the book and the result is a beautiful and perfectly rendered piece of of theatre that begs to be seen.
As the title suggests, the show follows a couple - Jenny and Oliver who meet and and fall in love. In the tradition of Romeo & Juliet, West Side Story and even Dallas - their families do not approve and Oliver finds himself forced to choose between the love of his life and his over bearing parents.
In true tear-jerker style, the couple are dealt a massive blow when it's revealed that Jenny has leukaemia. Cue the famous Frances Lai theme from the movie and heartfelt scenes as the two come to terms with this, alongside you, the audience.
Now, this could be insipid, overdone and simply an excuse to manipulate the audience. But Erich Segal's novel is tweaked, whilst the essence remains. Gone is the laughable line "Love means not ever having to say you're sorry" and in comes a more realistic take on love by Stephen Clark and some genuinely touching songs.
From the opening of "What Can You Say?" - the effect is totally mesmerising, as the piece is so intimate that you believe you are witnessing loss on a massive scale. But the show also celebrates true love and the feelings that this evokes.
Lauren Samuels gives a tremendous performance, way beyond her years and better than anything I have seen her do before. Give this actress more parts of this calibre as she has been wasted so far. She is witty, independent and has a sardonic edge and her chemistry with Daniel Boys makes the whole thing totally believable.
Daniel is stoic and witty - soft with Jenny and hard and brittle when he's with his parents, allowing the actor to show his varied acting range. Both of them sing their hearts out and even before the scene - hearts are broken due to their superb vocals.
The ensemble and supporting actors are excellent also and the musicians act and take part in the narrative and this blend works and is totally credible. Ciaran Bagnall's set design is excellent but there are too many steps so when actors have to climb up them, the thought of them coming down again - slows the narrative slightly.
But ignore this minor flaw, take plenty of tissues, and revel in this regional revelation, as Love Story is delivered with such respect, clarity and moving moments, and it's the best thing to be staged by the Octagon Theatre in years.
Love Story is at the Octagon Theatre, Bolton until 12 July.