Review by Daz Gale
Andrew Lloyd Webbers name may have been more commonly associated with negativity over the past 12 months due to the underperformance of Bad Cinderella on Broadway but it is hard to forget the legacy that is his impressive collection of musicals for more than 50 years. Now, one of his lesser revived titles is back on the West End in a tweaked production as original star Michael Ball returns to Aspects Of Love but will this be able to change everything and give Andrew Lloyd Webber a new production to celebrate?
Based on the 1955 novella, Aspects Of Love premiered in the West End in 1989 and on Broadway the following year. While a couple of smaller scale revivals have been staged since, this marks the first time the show has been seen in the West End for 30 years. The show is centred around the romantic entanglements of a group of people – actress Rose Vibert who meets fan Alex Dillingham and later his uncle George, George’s mistress Giulietta and his daughter Jenny. Basically, everyone’s shagging everyone.
As expected, love is the overarching theme of the show in all its many forms, hence the title of the show. Whether it is romantic, sexual or the love between family (although this theme is definitely taken too far when it comes to Jenny and Alex in the shows creepiest storyline - I use the word story lightly), the theme is never out of mind as it is continuously referenced with as much subtlety as a sledgehammer. What should be a romantic show feels tonally out of place due to a number of factors that didn’t quite land for one reason or another.
The book by Andrew Lloyd Webber is one of his thinnest though it gives the pretence it is full of depth as it uncovers the layers between the various relationships. Sadly though, more often than not this reveals not much to be found with multiple underwhelming and anticlimactic instances. A wholly unsatisfying story that simultaneously manages to be convoluted while wildly underwritten shows up the weak writing. The book does have one redeeming factor occasionally with a smattering of witty lines, impeccably delivered by the always reliable Michael Ball.
The music, also by the Lord (of course) is a mixed bag. Many of the tunes are easily forgettable and the ones that stick in your head for more than a fleeting moment are probably because they sound eerily familiar to other numbers - some of them being from Lloyd Webbers other shows and some with melodies seemingly borrowed from Les Miserables to give one example. I’m sure this is nothing but a mere coincidence obviously though ironically there is a line in the show about forging a masterpiece. The undoubted standout of the night comes from climactic number ‘Anything But Lonely’ flawlessly delivered by Laura Pitt-Pulford in a rousing performance which only highlights the frustration more numbers in the show couldn’t reach that same standard. It must also be said that the lyrics from Don Black and Charles Hart are a more consistent affair than that of the music and elevate many of the songs.
The one song everyone knows from Aspects Of Love is ‘Love Changes Everything’. After originating the role of Alex in the West End premiere production, it has gone on to become Michael Ball’s signature song – so it should come as no surprise that the show has been rewritten so that Michael can still sing it in his new role as George. While any opportunity to hear that marvellous man sing that impeccable number should be welcomed, it does feel a little shoehorned in unnaturally, almost as if Elaine Paige returned to Cats but this time as Rum Tum Tugger but still sung ‘Memory’ in that role. Jamie Bogyo’s Alex still got an opportunity to lend his stunning vocals to the classic in several reprises throughout the show.
Having not seen any previous production of Aspects Of Love, I have nothing to compare it to so can only comment about the choices made for this new production – choices being the operative word. John McFarlane’s set design takes beautiful art and transports it to become the backdrop for the stage. While there Is no denying the beauty and intricacy of these paintings, it never quite blends with the rest of the staging, creating a confused design that lacks the desired impact. Video projection also fails to hit the mark with one particular sequence showing archive footage from Venice sticking out for all the wrong reasons and cheapening the quality of the visuals. An over-reliance of a screen continuously moving back and forth across the stage so that cast members can duck behind it and move to their next position “seamlessly” gets extremely tiresome very quickly and initially leads to a very stop/start approach that never allows audiences to settle in to the story.
Jonathan Kents direction never quite hits the spot with the feeling every character is in a very different show. While to some extent that may have been the intent, it leads to a cold feeling production that I personally found impossible to connect to. Too many different elements seemed to be at play, never quite landing together in a cohesive manner, creating a set that at times felt too busy and at others felt too sparse with the cast never making full use of the stage and pivotal moments falling flat – at one point even eliciting an awkward laugh from the audience in a moment that clearly was designed to have a completely different reaction. However, the use of movement from Denni Sayers creates a far more satisfying response with impressive use in some of the larger moments in the show.
One aspect (ahem) of this production that can’t be faulted is the fantastic cast that have been assembled. Michael Ball is as fabulous as ever in the role of George, showcasing his comic abilities with precision as well as his inimitable singing voice. Always a joy to see him on a West End stage, it also feels special to witness him revisiting a show he has always been closely associated with, albeit in a different role this time.
Laura Pitt-Pulford steals the entire show with her performance as Rose Vobert in an extremely charismatic performance which saw her charm the audience as well as her multiple on-stage suitors. With a real sense for who her character is and how to maximise her own storyline and key moments, she gives the most well-rounded performance which, as impressive as it was, had the downside of showing up the weaker elements of the production.
Jamie Bogyo charms in his performance as Alex Dillingham, matching up with some bigger personalities on the stage and more than holding his own while Anna Unwin is a late but memorable addition in a stunning portrayal of Jenny. While Danielle De Niese may be severely underused as Giuletta, the moments she is on stage are an absolute delight and had me longing for more from her character. This was an ongoing problem for the show where characters were underwritten and never quite got any sort of journey of their own or redemption – just sleeping with various members of the family and occasionally getting shot.
As fantastic as this talented cast are, I couldn’t help but notice a severe lack of chemistry among many of the leads on stage, particularly in the earlier moments between Rose and Alex. No couples felt genuine and perhaps that is because of the quickfire nature which saw characters move on to another relationship like a romantic version of Musical chairs, but I would fault some of the production elements and direction itself as to why these performers never got the chance to lift their own performances.
Aspects Of Love is a show that is bound to divide audiences. While some will undoubtedly fall in love with it, others will find it completely cold. Sadly, I fall in to the latter camp. This was a show I was excited to see from its initial announcement and one I desperately wanted to love so seeing how problematic and full of flaws this production was is incredibly disappointing for me. That’s not to say it isn’t without its strong points – namely the cast and some of the gorgeous musical numbers. However, overall it’s a bit of a misguided mess. Andrew Lloyd Webber might be responsible for some truly incredible productions over the decades but this isn’t one of them. While I wouldn’t go as far as to rebrand it Bad Aspects Of Love just yet, there aren’t many aspects about this production to love.
Aspects Of Love plays at the Lyric Theatre until 11th November 2023. Tickets from https://nimaxtheatres.com/shows/aspects-of-love/
Photos by Johan Persson