Jesus Christ Superstar that mean I haven’t written the millionaire supervillain off completely; and I vaguely remember enjoying the Menier Chocolate Factory’s production of Aspects of Love nine years ago. But I think on that occasion I must have just enjoyed looking at Michael Arden for three hours because revisiting it now at Southwark Playhouse it turns out the show is a right turd. This is the latest of Jonathan O’Boyle’s musical revivals to transfer from Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre, and in fairness I don’t have much issue with the production itself or the cast. Set mainly in France between 1947 and 1964, it begins with 17-year-old Alex (Felix Mosse) getting an Ibsen boner for actress Rose (Kelly Price) and inviting her to spend a fortnight with him at his wealthy uncle’s country house.
With her acting work on hold and no paycheck coming in she agrees, but it turns out Alex hasn’t actually cleared this with his uncle, and when George (Jerome Pradon) finds out he returns to the house to kick them out.
But instead he falls for Rose himself, starting a love pentagram that’s really hard to care about. Aspects of Love famously spaffs out its most famous song, “Love Changes Everything,” right at the start, and its only other familiar tune, “Seeing Is Believing,” not long afterwards. Of course this being ALW it doesn’t make a huge difference where in the show they appear, since the rest of Don Black and Charles Hart’s lyrics are basically sung to those two tunes as well (it’s through-sung so there’s really not much respite.) With little musical variety we’re left with the story which is, to put it mildly, problematic. The charmless and petulant (even as he gets older) Alex is a hard lead to care about even in the first act (Rose reacts all "LOL, ze English" to Alex SHOOTING HER) and her other possible love interest isn’t much better (George wants Rose as the “other woman” as he’s still with Italian lover Giulietta at the time.)
By no means should this imply that it's only the men who are complete garbage fires, as Rose's first instinct when meeting George is to change into what she knows full well is his dead first wife's favourite dress, in a truly twisted attempt to get him to fall for her that nearly gives him a heart attack. Still, at least in a much-needed injection of camp it's a dress with a built-in cape, an idea designer Jason Denvir turns out to like so much he calls back to it later.
The second act is even dodgier as we jump to the 1960s and Alex coming back from a military career to reunite with his uncle and Rose, now married to each other. He goes all Yewtree over their 15-year-old daughter Jenny (Eleanor Walsh,) and in a programme note O’Boyle is keen to point out that The aGE of conSENt IN FrANce iS FIFteeN So it’S NOt thaT CReepY ACtualLY. Which is all very well if it’s a Romeo and Juliet situation and her love interest is also fifteen, but he’s her 34-year-old first cousin and she still likes to play at being a mermaid so pardon me if I cringe right out of my skin. (Except I needed to keep my skin on, as well as all my clothes and my coat, because unusually for The Large it was freezing in the theatre. I heard one of the ushers complaining to the house manager about it afterwards so hopefully it was a one-off that’ll be fixed for future performances.)
Alex does eventually get over Jenny in characteristically douchebag fashion, namely by fucking another of his uncle’s exes at his funeral. Outside of the main four characters all the roles are pretty thankless, including that of Giulietta; Madalena Alberto does eventually get her moment to shine with "Hand Me the Wine and the Dice,” a rare upbeat number which also gives Sam Spencer-Lane’s choreography a chance to come to life. It’s too little and far too late though; I guess ALW and co didn’t have time to explore all the possible aspects of love in one musical, but it’s a shame they decided to focus so exclusively on the boring ones.
Aspects of Love by Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Charles Hart, based on the novel by David Garnett, is booking until the 9th of February at Southwark Playhouse’s Large Theatre.
Running time: 2 hours 40 minutes including interval.
Photo credit: Pamela Raith.