REVIEW: SHE LOVES ME (Menier Chocolate Factory) ★★★★

she-loves-meIn these troubled and dark times, all we need is some festive delight to wind things up. A seasonal confection if you will. And whilst there are many holiday silver screen classics and countless replays of Love Actually to watch on TV, this is a theatre version of a festive romantic-comedy.

Who’d have thought a 1937 Budapest-set play could be so charming?! From the same duo who brought us Fiddler on the Roof a year after She Loves Me premiered in 1963, you can’t help but be smitten by its old-school setting and musical accompaniment. Set in a local parfumerie, Georg (Mark Umbers) and Amalia (Scarlett Strallen) are anonymous pen-pals lovers who are romantic on paper but little do they know they’ve already met face to face as co-workers and secretly detest one another. It’s refreshing to see a tale of anonymous love over paper rather than the typical method nowadays – Tinder.

It takes the length of the first quarter of the show before you warm into it, with the tipping point being Scarlett Strallen’s entrance through the door as Amalia. Here, she soars to new heights vocally similar to her performance in Candide at the Menier in 2013. From then on, each of the cast brings incredibly strong characterisation, from Mark Umbers as the emotional lover, Katherine Kingsley as the sales clerk Ilona and the mockney comic delight as well as Rory English, the hilarious waiter who romanticises with many of the audience members. Even Les Dennis provides a genuinely serious portrayal as the manager of the parfumerie, Mr Maraczek.

Matthew White’s staging flows effortlessly, with the first scene transition inside the parfumerie having the same sort of sparkle as a classy department store window such as Selfridge’s. Rebecca Howell also beguiles the Menier with her choreography, particularly in the final number ‘Twelve Days to Christmas,’ which is honestly one of the best ensemble numbers I’ve seen in some time.

Matthew White has created a sweet gem in the confined space provided, which actually suits this better than the grander-scale of the Broadway production earlier this year in the 1,000 seat auditorium. The intimacy of the Menier showcases the skilfulness of the choreography and music, with Sheldon Harnick calling it as, ‘may be the best production of She Loves Me (he’s) ever seen’. The best way to describe it is a Christmas present-musical – shimmery on the outside, bowed up nicely but not quite sure what’s inside at first. Once opened, you can’t helped but be charmed and heart warmed by the sweetness inside.

Reviewed by Barry O’Reilly

SHE LOVES ME plays at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 4 March 2017