Bigger is not always better. Back in the 1980s Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects Of Love grew into a major, technology packed, mega musical at the Prince of Wales. Perhaps it was a symptom of the time when helicopters, falling chandeliers and trains were the in fashion of musical theatre. Although having a successful run and since toured and performed regionally in smaller scale productions there was always a feeling that inside the beast was a small scale production begging to be heard. Following the abomination that was Paradise Found, the Menier Chocolate Factory have returned to form and released Aspects Of Love from it’s overblown past production to evolve into a perfectly formed chamber musical.
Trevor Nunn returns to direct the work he first premiered back in 1989 .Rather than a major reworking like previous Menier hits La Cage Aux Folles or Sweet Charity, Sir Trevor has gone back to the source material and despite some minor tweaks has concentrated on clarifying the story.
Some may be disappointed that this is not radical enough reimagining, but what Nunn has managed to do is release the show from the shadow of its famous chart topping number Love Changes Everything and allowed the rest of the lush, romantic score to shine. Yes the song is still there, and you will hear it reprised several times throughout the show, but instead of the opening number blunderbuss it was, it is now a softer, more reflective theme. Nunn has also turned much of the through sung recitative into a more conversational realistic style, although some lines do struggle to sound convincing.
As an intimate, if complex, love story this small scale production focuses as it should on the characters and as love struck English man abroad Alex, Michael Arden is faultless. Moving away from the original belting performance of Michael Ball, this Alex is more reflective, more vulnerable and, while never likeable, is a much more understandable character.
Arden sings beautifully and is the perfect foil for the worldlier, more seductive, French actress Rose, played with great emotional intensity by Katherine Kingsley. Kingsley’s haunting emotional breakdown in Anything But Lonely is the perfect counterpoint to the omnipresent Love Changes Everything. Dave Willets and Rosalie Craig as the other parties in this revolving love quartet also give strong performances as do the whole, on form, ensemble.
David Farley’s simple, multipurpose set and Paul Pyant’s evocative lighting aid the cinematic flow of the piece and allow for attention to be focused on the characters.
For those looking for glitz and glamour in their musicals this may not be the show for them, but for those looking for a grown up, intelligent, romantic reclaiming of one of Lloyd Webbers most lavish scores. Although this bears all the hallmarks of following the now established route for Menier shows, lets hope any future West End transfer finds an intimate enough venue to suit this chamber musical. This is an Aspects to certainly fall in love with.