In the world of revivals, sometimes it’s very clear as to why certain musicals (or plays for that matter) are not revived – they’re usually dated, irrelevant, uninteresting, unmarketable or just not very good. But sometimes, something will be revived that makes you wonder why it isn’t reproduced more often. The last time “Romance, Romance” was performed in the United Kingdom was in 1997, 18 years ago, after a transfer from the Bridewell Theatre in 1996 with Caroline O’Connor in the lead. The musical finally makes its welcomed return to the Landor in splendid style this month.
The musical is played in two distinct parts – one set in 19th Century Vienna and the other in more contemporary times; in this production with updated references. Emily Lynne and Lewis Asquith play the principal roles in both halves of the musical, and whilst Sinead Wall and Tom Elliot Reade feel unfortunately wasted in their minor roles in each act, they both make the most of them, particular in the second half.
In Act One, Lynne and Asquith are both from the wealthy upper class who, tired of their social lives and surroundings, disguise themselves in lower class roles in order to experience something more. Of course, they end up meeting and must continue their individual farce, concerned of offending the other if they reveal their “real” personas. Eventually, they decide to end their charade and all wraps up nicely. This Act is rather charming, though not the best showcase for the performers. The speed of dialogue is sometimes way to brisk to catch, and it occasionally feels that the “operetta” (which perfectly sums up the Act as mentioned in the piece) flavour is disregarded and not explored to its full potential.
However, Act Two raises the bar considerably. Set in an apartment in the Hampton’s, this time Lynne and Asquith play best friends Monica and Sam, but married to other people (Wall and Reade). In this half, the two supersede their rather frigid (and slightly unconvincing) Act One characters and become much more realistic and relatable. One of the only songs to survive outside of the musical “Words He Doesn’t Say” is delivered by Asquith superbly and really punches at the heart as the justification for an almost-affair. Wall and Reade appear as their other halves to comment on the situation, wafting in and out like a Greek chorus.
The lighting design by Richard Lambert is strangely intriguing. At times, distinct patches of darkness cover faces, which looked very peculiar, but at other times, the lighting appeared like a film, strangely mottled and highlighting eyes and mouths. The effect came across as very moody and unsettling, emulating apparent thought processes.
The tiny band of piano, reeds, bass and drums was excellent, led by Inga Davis-Rutter, although the balance at times made it a challenge to hear the singers, unfortunately.
It seems to me quite confusing as to why this delightful little show with it’s lovely songs and stories has not been performed more over the last 25 years since its creation and huge snaps to the Landor for taking the risk in putting it on.
Make sure you don’t wait another 18 years to see this charming musical.
Reviewed by Richard Kindermann
Photo: Sofi Berenger
Romance, Romance is playing at the Landor Theatre until 31 October 2015. Click here for tickets