Wednesday, 14 July 2010

A Lot of Night Music

The trouble with Andrew Lloyd Webber …

No, that’s too easy.

The trouble with Apects of Love is that it’s a trite plot centred on characters too self-absorbed to care about, woven with the relentless thread of ALW’s musical recycling. All the new Trevor Nunn production at the Menier Chocolate Factory does is illuminate the weaving flaws.

Apart from the fact the best-known song is hauntingly similar to a theme by Bach, one of the major melodies from Aspects ‘The Last Man in My Life’ is a shameless import from Tell Me On a Sunday, and the second trickles endlessly through Sunset Boulevard like a dose of musical dysentery.

Given this familiarity, and the fact that modern audiences expect less predictable lyrics than Don Black wrote in 1989 - sometimes you can spot the obvious rhymes bearing down on you like double decker buses – this revival of Aspects is less satisfying than perhaps it was when fresh.

It seems a frequent complaint that well-crafted performances are let down by the material, and there are some simply excellent singers in this production: Dave Willetts is outstanding, a beautiful mature timbre to his voice, but wasted on the banality of the music and lyrics, and it is especially refreshing to hear Michael Arden, as Alex, effortlessly hurdle the top ‘A’ in ‘Love Changes Everything’ without Michael Ball’s overexcited coloratura.

The plotting is tedious – self-centred actress Rose bounces between older and younger lovers, themselves uncle and nephew and one of which has fathered her coquettish teenage daughter with whom both men are further competitively infatuated. There’s a side issue of an Italian sculptress who may be mistress of both the uncle and the actress, ooh-er, sapphism Missus, and an uncredited ‘Hugo’ who incidentally has a lovely voice, who may also be shagging the actress. Although he looks like he'd rather do both of the men.

Throw in the wearing of a dress made for a deceased lady of the house, nicked directly from Rebecca, and the older/younger/actress/daughter quadrilateral borrowed from A Little Night Music and the source material becomes more interesting than the resultant musical.

It’s hard to warm to Rose Vibert because she’s such an unlovely character, but Katharine Kingsley’s confident performance shows the calculating coarseness lurking beneath the powder and paint, if rarely the warmth of a genuine romantic.

The production runs 2 hours 45 but you could trim half an hour of that by cutting the pretentious ALW operatic recitative (almost every word is sung) and turning it into dialogue between musical numbers. The set is a series of chipboard doors and picture frames which slide and occasionally reveal scenic implants including an Alpine panorama disturbingly reminiscent of Hilda Ogden’s ‘muriel’ from Coronation Street.

Sir Trevor Nunn is 70.

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