REVIEW: Romance Romance (Above the Stag Theatre) ★★★★

Romance Romance is split into two parts, connected only by the common theme of – you guessed it – love. Barry Harman‘s script is an amalgamation of two existing stories that he found whilst browsing in a bookstore. Along with a team of talented creatives, he decided to reimagine the characters as homosexuals and bring this new creation to the Stag.

Act I, ‘The Little Comedy’, is set in 19th Century Vienna, telling of two very wealthy strangers who are dismayed by unfulfilling relationships and both longing for more. They both adopt new working-class identities and meet by chance under these new guises – but will this new found love stand the test of legitimacy?

Meanwhile, Act II, ‘Summer Share’, is set in 90’s America and centres around two couples who are sharing a romantic getaway together. Two of them have been friends since childhood and swear to their husbands that they are “just friends”, but one summer night and a lot of liquor later, could that be about to change?

The first half was striking, due to to its very stylised take on the grandeur of Vienna in the 1800’s. To begin with, I didn’t totally grasp what was going on – I just knew that I liked it a lot, and I truly felt as though I was in Vienna myself. The dancing was well-choreographed and well-executed, blending the periodic movements of waltzes and polkas with a modern edge. The use of masks as props was visually effective, whilst also being a strong metaphor for the content of the first story: disguising one’s true character to become someone else.

Jordan Lee Davies gets the gold star from me in this show. His performance as Valentin in the first half was absolutely beguiling, and I was an instant fan the moment I heard his blissful vocal range. His capacity for conveying an eccentric character within a fast-paced, excitable plot was spellbinding, and he is a very natural comic. Blair Robertson is a superb match as Valentin’s love interest Alfred, with both he and Davies having us suitably entertained from the first scene.

Act II held both excellent and average elements. The chemistry between Jeremy (Ryan Anderson) and Sam (Alex Lodge) felt entirely natural and easy, making these performers a pleasure to watch, especially in the particularly emotional scenes. Some of the songs could be shortened, however, as several of them felt very similar in content – there’s only so many sad songs about longing that you can endure before they start to be a little tiresome. The conversation between our main characters was convincingly authentic, and the slow prising out of true feelings did not feel rushed – so I commend this aspect of the writing. I also applaud the unexpected outcome of this half – it wasn’t predictable, and the audience was immensely thankful for that.

On a practical level, these two vastly different stories may seem like a very bizarre blend for the same play – but the ambiguity is possibly part of the point. ‘Romance’ exists across time zones, cultures and countries apart, to every single one of us; therefore the lack of connection does make sense. However, I’d like to see this play reimagined into three parts rather than two, with an extra story (once again, worlds apart from the others) to add yet another dimension to this theme.

The set in both Acts was very cleverly designed – in fact, this may be one of the best transformative sets I’ve seen used at the Stag, capable of looking entirely different with just one slide of a door or folding of a prop.

Although I did lose patience with the repetitive nature of the second Act, this is definitely worth seeing purely just for the first. The four actors are well cast, and it is very obvious how much work has gone into rehearsals for this complex production. A beautiful representation of multiple stories reimagined and modernised for the Stag audience.

Reviewed Laura Evans
Photo: PGB Studios

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