Manchester Theatre Awards

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Aspects of Love

Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Charles Hart based on the novel by David Garnett
Aria Entertainment and Hope Mill Theatre with Neil Eckersley and Jim Kinstead
Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester
05 July 2018 to 09 August 2018

Hope Mill Theatre has built a rock-solid reputation for bringing to the region high-quality productions of off-centre shows that previously would never have got north of Watford. For such a cutting-edge company to tackle a show with a score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, who some might regard as middle-of-the-road, proves that Hope Mill will not be limited in their choice of productions.

Aspects of Love concerns a love triangle that lasts from 1947 to 1964.  Alex (Felix Mosse) believes that love changes everything, while his uncle George (Jerome Pradon) treats love as an ephemeral thing – a memory of a happy moment. Their philosophies start to change when actress Rose (Kelly Price) enters the picture. Rose initially forms a relationship with an infatuated teenage Alex, despite the age difference between them. Alex is devastated when Rose switches her affections and marries George, but the old roué changes his ways and becomes a loving father to Jenny (Eleanor Walsh, making a strong professional debut). Years later things turn full circle as a mature Alex finds there is a mutual attraction to his cousin, although Jenny is only 15.

There is a reflective tone to the score, with limited show-stopping numbers, which suits the concept of characters ruminating on the nature of love. There is, however, also a patchwork quality to the score, with some of the tunes sounding familiar from other works by Andrew Lloyd Webber. Vocally, however, there is not a false note, with excellent turns from the entire cast especially Mosse and Price.

Director Jonathan O’Boyle stages the show so as to exploit the intimate nature of Hope Mill. Patrons are encouraged to sit around tables on-stage to add to the European café society atmosphere. With the storyline of couples switching partners one might expect a decadent atmosphere, but Jason Denvir’s set, with a circle of blinds shading a central area, feels a bit too crisp and clean to reflect a jaded European setting. O’Boyle shows great sensitivity in the handling of the controversial relationship between Alex and Jenny, allowing the audience to reach their own conclusions without clumsily forcing the issue.

The score has been stripped back to basics for two pianos and percussion. However, on occasion, musical director and pianist Gareth Bretherton substitutes amplification for orchestration, with the music so loud that the sound distorts. Instead of being stirring it becomes overpowering.

Structurally the musical is uneven, with the first Act a tad melodramatic and most of the interesting developments occurring in the second. In Act One choreographer Sam Spencer-Lane is limited to staging elaborate scene changes, and it is not until towards the climax of the show there is a dark and disturbing tango that howls defiance against the end of life.

It is only well into the second Act that any depth of characterisation begins to emerge. Kelly Price has to wait until her final big number, Anything But Lonely, for her scorching vocal to reveal the phobia that has driven Rose’s infidelity. There is a haunted quality about Felix Mosse’s interpretation of Alex, as if the character cannot put the past aside and forgive Rose for her choice. It brings out the obsessive dark aspect of love and makes for a strong second Act, as there is the real possibility that Alex might be capable of grooming and seducing his cousin purely as an act of revenge.

Hope Mill has introduced many actors new to their profession, and Eleanor Walsh is a real find, making Jenny a mischievous teen old enough to be daring but too young to appreciate the potential danger of her situation.  

Aspects of Love is a curiously unsettling story; apart from George, who is content with his past and happy with how his life has worked out, the characters all seem unfulfilled by love – Rose using sex to mitigate her fear of loneliness, and Alex incapable of forgetting past events. Hopefully as the production progresses the company will have more confidence in stirring audience emotions through the performances of the cast and rely less on the volume of the score.

Reviewer: David Cunningham

Comments

Comment by Robert Beale

This is a remarkable production that reflects credit on all concerned, and the shortcomings David rightly notes are really those of the original book, lyrics and score rather than this presentation. There's something dated and a bit creepy about a story where people switch their affections so readily while talking all the while of love (Aspects of Lust might have been a better title?), and where the Lolita-like charms of a teenager are seen as a reason for an older man's attraction to her being an understandable proclivity rather than something for which a safeguarding procedure would be appropriate. It's from the era of the permissive society, based on a novel about the wealthy and conventionally amoral, written by people who may have aspired to be like them.

Nonetheless it's given here by five extremely talented actors and good support, of whom Kelly Price is the most magnetically convincing – an actress playing an actress and knowing how to do it exactly.

Hearing a Lloyd Webber score in two-keyboard guise is quite an eye-opener, too, and personally I liked the all-out Romanticism of the musicians' playing and didn't worry about the volume level. The show has been done in cabaret style before and suits miniaturisation - its multiple scene changes are brilliantly handled here, and the set is one of the best seen at Hope Mill. Fully agree on all the positives.

Comment by Alan Hulme

Well, we, Mrs H and me, absolutely loved it.

We saw it the night after David and Robert when perhaps sound levels had been adjusted (seems to be a trait at this venue) and the use of big crescendos at climactic moments did much to produce the tingles down the spine that a full orchestra does in other larger productions.

Agree with Robert that the shortcomings are in the show itself, which the creators have acknowledged by several tinkerings around with it over the years. The story is rather dubious in several aspects and it does get rather over long as it ducks and dives around the late-in-the-evening final liaisons.

But this is another tremendous production from Hope Mill. Wonderful cast right down the line, with great voices and stage presence, very sharply directed, atmospheric set and lighting design. Truly outstanding performances from central couple Felix Mosse and Kelly Price, strongly supported by Jerome Pradon, Kimberly Blake, Eleanor Walsh and Minal Patel, a mix of relative newcomers and vast experience creating an outstanding ensemble.