Review by Rob Bartley
Remember back in 1998 when Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan found love through the joys of dial-up internet in ‘You’ve Got Mail’? Well, that was based on the 1940 film ‘The Shop Around The Corner’, and THAT was based on the 1937 play ‘Parfumerie’. And THAT was also the basis of the 60s musical ‘She Loves Me’. It does feel like we can get to Kevin Bacon somehow if we keep this up. But until we do, bring the focus back to ‘She Loves Me’, which is nearing the end of its festive run at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre.
Written back in 1963 by ‘Cabaret’ scribe Joe Masteroff, with music & lyrics by ‘Fiddler On The Roof’ creators Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, ‘She Loves Me’ is the classic story of two people who hate each other by day, but are unaware that they’re actually falling in love with the other via a penpal friendship. Shop assistants Amalia Balash and Georg Novak squabble during their shared hours in Maraczek’s perfume shop in Budapest, and then through a series of showtunes and rom-com scenarios, end up discovering the other’s true identity and realising perhaps they’re not so horrid after all. It’s a charming tale from a more innocent time, and it’s told delightfully. With no swearing, violence or anything naughtier than pecks on the cheek, the show is like a vanilla frosted cupcake; light, fluffy, and sweet.
Played to three sides of the Crucible's stage, the show uses the space well and makes good use of its revolve. The large shop exterior facade to the rear of the stage opens out impressively, and the cast efficiently wheel furniture and props around to create changing location so the piece never feels too static. Although Robert Hastie’s direction is dynamic and creative, it is a long show (just shy of 2 hours 45 including interval), and it does occasionally feel like a few scenes could be trimmed here and there to tighten the pace, but everyone works hard to ensure the audience stays engaged. Everything seems to gel more in Act 2, with chemistry bouncing off the leads and the humour ringing out from the script. It may also help that it is 25 minutes shorter, making it feel tighter, and it also contains the two most memorable songs (the title track and "Vanilla Ice Cream").
With a cast of regular theatre performers, it’s not surprising that performances are uniformly strong. Alex Young and David Thaxton make for an engaging central couple and spark off each other brilliantly. Andy Coxon, Kaisa Hammarlund and Marc Elliot also sound great and offer excellent support as other shop assistants going through their own issues, and Lewis Cornay makes for a wonderfully wide-eyed Arpad and is endearing charming.
Musically there aren't many standout songs that would make it onto anyone's Ultimate Musicals playlist, but the songs do work well within the show and they are enjoyable when heard in context. Choreography by Ewan Jones is also excellent, particularly in the tango-inspired restaurant scene which is brilliantly devised and performed.
As the recent broadcasts of ‘Half A Sixpence’ and ‘Anything Goes’ have shown, there is still a huge demand for more 'classic' shows that remind audiences of simpler times, and ‘She Loves Me’ does that brilliantly. With consistent charm and wit throughout, it's a joyous tonic of light relief that's certain to brighten up this dismal January. Modestly-priced even for the best seats, it's also worth mentioning that the side-view seats also offer excellent value for anyone on a tighter budget.
See it while you can.
She Loves Me plays at the Sheffield Crucible until January 15th. Tickets from https://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/whats-on/crucible-theatre