Katherine Kingsley and Michael Arden
in Aspects of Love
(© Catherine Ashmore)
Katherine Kingsley and Michael Arden
in Aspects of Love
(© Catherine Ashmore)
Andrew Lloyd Webber's Aspects of Love was originally staged in 1989 at the Prince of Wales Theatre in the West End in a lavish production directed by Trevor Nunn. Now, with Nunn at the helm once more, the show has been nipped and tucked for the smaller space of the Menier Chocolate Factory. This new production has a fixed set and just seven musicians instead of a full orchestra, but the show doesn't really benefit from this greater degree of intimacy. In fact, the cliché-reliant writing and the dislikeable nature of the characters now have less to hide behind.

Based on a novella by David Garnett, with lyrics supplied by Don Black and Charles Hart, the musical is presumably meant to evoke the richness and variety of human attraction. Yet, the more complex the web of relationships on display becomes the more tedious and implausible the whole thing feels.

Set in post-Second World War Europe, the plot concerns the relationship between Rose Vibert (Katherine Kingsley), a calculating French actress, and her young British admirer Alex Dillingham (Michael Arden). The 19-year-old Alex impulsively whisks Rose to the mountain villa of his wealthy uncle George (David Willetts) where, due to her habit of gliding around in his dead wife's dresses, the older man is soon bewitched by her, and Rose rather predictably then turns her attentions towards George.

Events leap forwards 13 years and Rose's adolescent daughter Jenny (Rebecca Brewer), similarly becomes an object of infatuation for Alex, and, in some ways, George as well. There is also the complicating factor of Giulietta (Roselie Craig), the stereotypically bohemian Italian artist -- she wears lots of floaty clothes and a scarf in her hair -- who is George's mistress and possibly Rose's lover as well.

In Kingsley's hands, Rose is hard-eyed, self-serving, and cunning, but there's little in the way of balance to her performance; only once, very briefly does she make it appear as if Rose feels any genuine affection for either of her suitors; it doesn't help that she's saddled with a comically thick French accent.

Arden and Willetts are both charismatic performers, but they're hampered by the limitations of their roles. Still, Willets' performance contains a measure of warmth and Arden manages the frankly heroic feat of making young Alex vaguely sympathetic even when he's lusting after his 13-year old cousin.

As fans of the show already know, the dominant song is "Love Changes Everything" and Lloyd Webber insists on returning to it again and again and again, to the point where few other numbers are given room to develop. The only song that really stands out on its own is the celebratory, flamenco-tinged "Hand Me the Wine and the Dice."

But the main problem lies beneath the music. While the show is meant to demonstrate the capacity of love to change people, the characters barely evolve; they remain self-serving and shallow, and their motivations are drawn with the broadest of brushes.