Katherine Kingsley, Michael Arden, David Willetts
‘Love. Love changes everything. Hands and faces, trees and sky.’ If you go to see Trevor Nunns revival of Andrew Lloyd Webbers Aspects of Love you will come away with this anthemic yet vaguely nonsensical line etched deep on your mind.
You may not want it there, but this is a melody with a tight grip and once it infects you, its hard to shake it off.
Aspects is an odd and unappealing musical. Based on the novella of the same name by David Garnett (an associate of the Bloomsbury Group, a one time lover of the artist Duncan Grant and eventual husband to Grants daughter), its purportedly concerned with the numerous shapes and forms that human attraction can take, but there is little resembling love on display. Lust and obsession, yes; love, not so much.
First seen in the West End in 1989, in a production also directed by Nunn, its set in the years following the Second World War and concerns the various relationships and infatuations of Alex, a young British soldier.
Alex is first drawn to hungry-eyed actress Rose when he is nineteen. Besotted, he persuades her to come with him to the villa of his wealthy uncle George. Once there its only a matter of time before the older man also falls under her spell and Rose drops Alex for his uncle. In the second half, the romantic entanglements are complicated further; Rose now has a teenage daughter, Jenny, and from the moment he first sets eyes on her Alex finds himself captivated by this young girl.
This new narrative tack is unsettling, as much for the age of the girl in question as for its handling. It was incredibly hard to know where ones sympathies are supposed to lie. The characters are all dislikeable, ugly and self-serving; they use each other, bed each other, but dont seem to care for each other in any real way. Despite the repeated instance of the song, love does not change them in any way, love barely touches them. Their bohemian, cultured, post-War existence seems cold and alienating and no amount of flamenco-inspired revelry is capable of changing that.
The cast do their best with this peculiar, unpalatable material. David Willetts and Michael Arden have a degree of appeal as Uncle George and Alex respectively, but while Katherine Kingsley convinces as the resilient and determined Rose, a woman with ambition who is happy to use people if needs be, there is little depth to her performance, little sign of something going on beneath her protective shell . There is perhaps one moment of greater emotional complexity, but it is fleeting. The various French accents on display have a tendency to stray into Allo, Allo territory as well.
This revival is pared down version of the original, smaller in scale, much more of a chamber piece. David Farleys set is a simple collage of windows and doors all in the same muted, straw colour, occasionally enlivened (and I use this word loosely) by a projected backdrop. Lloyd Webbers score has moments of lushness and invention, but Love Changes Everything dominates to a wearying degree.
The biggest problem is, however, one of implausibility. These are characters who frequently declare their feelings for one another but these connections never convince. A brief hint of Sapphism between Rose and Georges mistress, the Italian sculptress Giulietta, comes from nowhere and feels as if it has been thrown into the mix to tick another box, rather than because its true to the characters. No one grows no one changes – and the whole thing drags its way slowly, if occasionally melodically, towards a downbeat, somewhat abrupt conclusion.