Saturday, 19 February 2011

Love Story **

As with most reviews, I will preface this by saying that I have neither read the highly successful original novel by Erich Segal, nor seen the even more lucrative Hollywood film and was thus going into the show without expectation or bias, as it appeared most of the audience was.
The set was laid out in a sparse fashion; the whole stage was painted and covered in white, including the instruments and props for the band at the back. The lone exception was a black grand piano in the centre, forming a focal point that turned out to not be that much of a focal point in the story at all.
The show opened with a musical number that was endearing and almost enchanting but the class of the song was eventually undermined by its reprises and before long I was looking forward to the next song. This turned out to be somewhat unfortunate as the vast majority of the songs sounded more or less the same, so floating in a chorus or two from a different song went almost unnoticed. The whole show sounded the same and the way the songs were staged had very little variation indeed. Having said that, there was a very impressive scene where Michael Xavier and Emma Williams sang a very energetic and fast-paced song while cooking themselves some pasta. Credit given where credit is due.
The general acting was rather disappointing as well. With the exception of Peter Polycarpou as the ill-fated Jenny’s father, Phil, there was very little genuine characterisation. Polycarpou brought a depth and a realistic comedy to the show, his character being far more human than the rest of them and, as a result, far easier to connect with. The rest of the cast seem to have picked one element of their character and run with it so that they weren’t so much people as two-dimensional representations. Instead of being a fully developed person, Jenny was an intelligent pianist and Oliver was a confident lawyer. It was frustrating because the scope was there in the script to make a lot of the characters and at various points you could see the actors trying to do so but their efforts were one-off moments and not endorsed by sustained development.
The whole show used a very simple style, which would have worked it if was done with greater depth. As it was, the effect this intentionally simple approach turned out to be bland at best. There was very little dynamic and all the dynamics that were in place were either predictably the same or had their foundations in the ether. The whiteness of the set worked well with the props that were wheeled on and off, which I liked, but it didn’t help the severe lack of character to the show.
My judgement is that the show rested on its laurels too much, like a general leading a Roman Legion into battle against some disorganised locals it relied too heavily on reputation and took far too many losses in what should have been an easy victory. The fact that it is based on an already incredibly successful franchise and has the talents of Michael Ball on board, albeit as the producer, seemed to be enough to draw audiences into the theatre. Once inside and the curtain up the story was left to do all the work. There was no added colour to it, there was no individuality to it; it was very much the story and not much else. The story is a good one, but even a good story can be told badly and this was in danger of turning into that poor grandparent who falls asleep reading their grandchildren bedtime stories.
It was a short show, two hours without an interval and I’m not sure why. Admittedly, more of the same would have sent me to sleep myself but giving the cast more room and more time to develop their characters and the subtle nuances of life that were missing would have been time well spent. The fact that everyone who really enjoyed the show were clearly privy to the story beforehand implies that the show is only worth seeing if you’ve read the book, which I think is indicative of a bad adaptation more than anything else. Lack of awareness of the book a show is based on should not have such a detrimental effect on the ability of the show to stand on its own.
The show was sad from the beginning and when she eventually dies at the end you find yourself wondering what she was giving up on as there wasn’t much excitement beforehand. Resigned to lamentation throughout, the show just came across as very one-dimensional, jumping through hoops and ticking boxes as opposed to thinking outside of them and developing something new.
I’m not saying that there weren’t good things about the show, there were quite a few things that were done very well, but there wasn’t enough to provide balance or nuance to an underdeveloped show.
The one poignant line in the whole show that stood out to me, ‘love’s not what you feel it’s what you do’ was seriously downplayed, coming in at the end of one of the series of lamenting and tedious songs, and almost went unnoticed. I think that most of the audience missed it entirely. Perhaps the moral of this particular love story is that you need to do a whole lot more.

Written by Erich Segal; Adapted by Stephen Clark; Music by Howard Goodall; Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh; at the Duchess Theatre; Starring Emma Williams, Michael Xavier, Peter Polcarpou, Richard Cordery, Jan Hartley, Paul Kemble, Gary Milner; Runs from 27 Nov 10 - 26 Feb 11.

John Ord (18/02/2011)

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