‘Love changes everything’ sang Michael Ball in the number which took him beyond musical theatre to the Top Ten and international stardom. The song is the best known from Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical Aspects of Love, whose success did not match that of its star and which was described by the New York Times as ‘perhaps the greatest flop in Broadway history,’ writes Katie Kelly.
If your expectations of the show are based on this song alone then ‘Aspects of Love’ is a surprising night out. There is nothing controversial, or even original, in the hit that opens and closes it, but the action in between is anything but conventional. The story follows the terribly tangled love lives of a theatre star, her young starstruck fan, Alex; his Uncle George, an Italian lover and a 15 year old girl.
The first act bowls along with plenty to please. Some fabulous vocals, a set that feels sumptuous, beautiful costumes and stunning lead actress, Kelly Price. The pared back orchestration, which consists of a two pianos and percussion, is impressive for a while. There is humour, particularly in the song ‘She’d be far better off with you’
The second half, however, became claustrophobically dark and inward looking. The piano begins to feel discordant and overworked and no amount of great singing and lovely frocks can sweeten the fact that what we seem to be watching is a family that wouldn’t look out of place on The Jeremy Kyle Show.
To recap: the story begins when the 17-year-old Alex persuades an actress, Rose, with whom he is smitten, to accompany him to the South of France where they set up camp in a house belonging to his Uncle George. George is tipped off and pays a surprise visit where he falls for Rose. The suggestion is made by George, that for Alex, this is a youthful fling and not to be taken too seriously. Two years later Alex turns up at George’s apartment and discovers that Rose is in now in a relationship with his uncle. There follows an extremely disturbing scene where Alex pulls a gun on his former lover, claiming that if he can’t have her then nobody can. This all gets passed over very lightly when he accidentally fires the gun and only slightly injures Rose and soon enough everyone is having a light-hearted sing-song about who Rose should really belong to, Uncle or Nephew. If all that isn’t toxic enough, a few more years pass, a few more complicated entanglements and the incestuous group find themselves reunited and Alex’s attentions turn to the daughter of Rose and George, with disastrous results.
There is a lot that is impressive about this cast and production but the juxtaposition of show tunes and relational dysfunction without a hint of irony feels jarring. The author of the novella that inspires this musical, David Garnett, was part of the bohemian Bloomsbury Group. A wonderfully talented collection of people with equally disturbingly entangled relationships. I had a similar reaction to watching this show as I have when reading the accounts of this group, which is to think ‘Why don’t you all get out and make some other friends?!’ The title itself feels ironic. Aspects of love? More like a showcase of toxic relationships.
Aspects of Love is on at Southwark Playhouse, 77-85 Newington Causeway, SE1 6BD until February 9th. Times: Mon – Sat 7.30pm; Tues & Sat matinees 3pm. Admission: £27.50, £22. Phone: 0207 407 0234.