Aspects of Love had the unenviable task of being the next Andrew Lloyd Webber production to premiere on the West End after his 1986 blockbuster The Phantom of the Opera, a show that has entered its 33rd year in London and, in 2013, became Broadway’s longest-running show. It was also the first show in New York to reach 10,000 performances. To say, therefore, that Phantom was a tough act to follow is an understatement.
When Aspects of Love arrived in Australia in 1992, it was in a production directed by Gale Edwards and starring Peter Cousens. Last week, more than 25 years after its debut at Sydney’s Theatre Royal, the show returned to the harbour city in a new production at Hayes Theatre Co. Directed by Andrew J. Beavis and featuring a cast of 16, Aspects of Love concludes a strong 2018 season for the Hayes.
Adapted from David Garnett’s 1955 novel and set in the 1940s, Aspects of Love tells an elaborate story about a 17-year-old English student, Alex (Jonathan Hickey), who becomes besotted by a burgeoning actress, Rose (Caitlin Berry), after seeing her perform in southern France. Alex convinces Rose to accompany him to a villa in the city of Pau owned by his uncle, George (Grant Smith), a well-read and affluent artist who is in Italy with his mistress, Giulietta (Stefanie Jones). But the 60-year-old returns to the villa and is soon in competition with his nephew for Rose’s affections. Rose then leaves to return to performing and Alex joins the army. Two years later, Alex visits his uncle in Paris and finds that Rose has become his mistress – The Bold and The Beautiful, eat your heart out!
And it certainly doesn’t end there. Several further turns in the melodramatic tale ensue, each pointing us back to the theme of the show’s signature song – that love is affecting, consequential and potentially even ruinous.
While Aspects of Love endeavours to take audiences on the kind of majestic journey they’ve come to expect of Lloyd Webber’s shows, this is one of his least successful works. The score may be peppered with appealing, melodious music (the ‘Seeing is believing’ refrain is arguably stickier than ‘Love Changes Everything’), but the plot is convoluted, the lyrics (by Don Black and Charles Hart) are frequently uninspired and, in 2018, some moments in the show don’t sit well as an audience member living in a world more politically evolved (specifically, the suggestion of romance between a man in his thirties and his 15-year-old cousin is a rather uncomfortable proposition.)
Despite the fundamental flaws in the show itself, there is much to like in Walk This Way Productions’ new treatment of Aspects of Love. The physical production is easily one of the most ambitious to have come to the stage at the Hayes. Steven Smith’s set shows high attention to detail and creates an aesthetically attractive world that effectively evokes a sense of the 1940s French and Italian locations. No corner of the stage is forgotten and Nathan M. Wright’s slickly choreographed scene changes swiftly and seamlessly move us from one location to the next. This aspect of the show makes it feel more like the kind of big production that plays a large commercial house. Tim Chappel (who won an Oscar for his work on the film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert) has delivered costumes that are elegant, as well as character and period precise. John Rayment’s thoughtful lighting choices complement both Smith’s set and Chappel’s costumes.
Another feature of this production that represents one of its greatest assets is its 12-piece orchestra. Under the direction of Geoffrey Castles (MD on some of the biggest musicals to play Australia in recent years), these songs come to life complete with the strings and wind instruments one expects to hear in a lush Lloyd Webber orchestration.
And when it comes to the cast, Aspects of Love has seen a fine group of artists assembled. Hickey believably transforms from a cordial lovestruck teen to a worldly man across the course of the show and, tasked with performing its best-known cut, showcases his impressive tenor. Just as she did in the recent She Loves Me, Berry demonstrates her sizable star quality as the bright and vivacious actress. Her soprano easily handles Lloyd Webber’s score and she plays the role of Rose with total conviction. Similarly, stage veteran and baritone Smith proves an excellent choice for the mesmeric George, who embraces wholeheartedly the notion of ‘carpe diem’.
But it’s Jones who stands out in this high calibre cast. She thoroughly embodies the role of Giulietta, the bohemian Italian sculptress, and her portrayal seems effortless. Her lead performance on ‘Hand Me the Wine and the Dice’, a song in which Guilietta voices her own desire for living in the now, is an Act II highlight, owing also to Wright’s wonderful choreography. From her first scene, Jones has a presence that constantly steals our focus.
Aspects of Love offers Sydney theatregoers a chance to experience one of Lloyd Webber’s most rarely-performed works. While it may not be a great musical, it is exciting to see the risks that Beavis and Wright have been willing to take in a 100-seat theatre. The scale of the production they have staged at the Hayes is commendable; it’s an insight for other producers into what can be achieved away from the mainstage and also gives us good reason to be excited about the future work that Walk This Way Productions will bring to Australian audiences.
ASPECTS OF LOVE – SEASON DETAILS
Venue: Hayes Theatre Co, 19 Greenknowe Ave, Potts Point
Season: Playing now until Sunday 30 December, 2018
Times: Tues-Sat 7.30pm, Wed matinee 1pm, Sat matinees 2pm and Sun matinee 3pm
Price: Adults $89, Concession $79, Previews $79
Bookings: hayestheatre.com.au | (02) 8065 7337