Romance, Romance continues at the Landor Theatre, London until 31 October.
Star rating: four stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ✩
Surprise, surprise… Romance, Romance which made little impact in its short 1997 run at the Gielgud, makes for a charming, tuneful evening in the intimate surroundings of the Landor’s North Clapham pub theatre much more suited to its small ‘feel’.
In football parlance, it’s a game of two halves, Act I lifted from an Arthur Schnitzler short story called The Little Comedy set in late 19th Century Vienna, the second an updating to New York’s plush Hamptons of the 1980s of an 1898 Jules Renard play called Le Pain de Ménage.
The first is a game played by two people bored by their own privileged lives who adopt personas below their station in the hope of discovering true love but find living on the breadline even more boring.
The second, Summer Share, has two married couples spending the season in a rented cottage with one long-standing platonic relationship moving up a gear into the distinct possibility of an illicit affair. But can they resist wrecking their seemingly strong marriages?
The tenuous link, according to lyricist Barry Harman, is “the courage to have fantasies, how making choices is the way you get through life”. Not the deepest thought maybe but, with the help of Keith Herrmann’s rather samey music, it provides a quirky confection that flirted with fame by being nominated for five Tonys on Broadway. But that was 1988, the year of Phantom and Into the Woods. Say no more!
The one song common to both stories, ‘It’s Not Too Late’, is the catchiest but ‘The Night It Had To End’, ‘How Did I End Up Here?’, ‘Words He Doesn’t Say’ and the ensemble finale ‘Romantic Notions’ are all well written and moving.
And while the 25-song score is far from exceptional, it is lifted by being wonderfully performed by Emily Lynne and Lewis Asquith, with supporting cast Sinead Wall and Tom Elliot Reade briefly stealing their thunder with their hilarious tap-break routine as (much) older selves creaking through ‘My Love For You’.
Lynne, quite a star in her native Pittsburgh before her husband’s job brought her to London, not only sings with great purity, her delicate acting skills are sublime. This was a return to the Landor where she made an eye-catching British debut in February as part of the She Loves Me team and any West End theatre would be lucky to have her.
The 6ft 4in Asquith, a recent Trinity Laban graduate, is only 23 but handles two roles requiring greater maturity with suave polish to match fine vocal skills. I very much look forward to seeing him again.
Considering the show was apparently put together in a two-week panic because of unforeseen problems, house director Robert McWhir has done brilliantly, the two very different sets, atmospherically lit by Richard Lambert, are full of detail, and MD Inga Davis-Rutter rules her musicians Rosie Reed, Jeremy Longley and Tristan Butler with iron hand and velvet glove.
Not a great musical but a delightful, sweet-natured confection. Two Emily Lynnes for the price of one is a bargain not to be missed, while young Asquith is quite a discovery. Bravo!