This review was originally written for The Reviews Hub: http://www.thereviewshub.com
“Guess what’s all the rage again, taking centre stage again” we are asked at the beginning of both acts of this musical revival. The answer in each case is, of course, “romance”. This is a show of two distinct halves and we must assume that both have been given the same one-word title. The Landor has earned a reputation for making big shows work in its small space, but there is no high-kicking chorus line this time. Although Romance, Romance has had runs both on Broadway and in the West End. it is very much a chamber musical for just four performers and it can work as well, if not better, here as anywhere else. The only exception is that Keith Herrmann’s score may lose some of its melodic quality in the scaled-down orchestrations for a band of four musicians. Act I is set in 19th Century Vienna, where Alfred (Lewis Asquith), a very rich and very single young man is fed up with women who are interested in him just for his money. He sheds his top hat and tails to dress down and pretend to be a penniless poet. He meets Josefine (Emily Lynne), a courtesan who is tired of rich men and wants a handsome one. She also lies about her past and they embark on an affair, each expressing a facetious and cynical view of romance, each using the other for their own ends and regarding them as eventually disposable. It is fast forward a century or so for Act II and to the holiday home that has been shared for many years by two New York couples. Sam (Asquith) is married happily to Barb (Sinéad Wall) and Lenny (Tom Elliot Reade) is married happily to Monica (Lynne). The complication is that Sam and Monica are best friends and, coaxed by a few too many glasses of wine, they begin to question whether their friendship is really as platonic as each has supposed, while their spouses watch on fearing the worst. Now the view of romance is something that sweeps us away when our defences are low, but a force that will pass by quickly. Both Acts are wafer-thin, but Barry Harman’s book and lyrics are peppered with wit. Herrmann’s catchy tunes may not be too memorable, but they suit the moods of the show and four strong performances, under the experienced direction of Robert McWhir serve the production well. Asquith and Lynne carry large chunks of the show and their likability and their skill in effecting transitions between very different characters in each half make a big contribution. While assuring us that “passion is back in fashion”, this frivolous little show sends out only messages that would not have pleased St Valentine. Sadly, it seems that romance is no more than just a diversion from the reality of life, a mere illusion.
Performance date: 12 October 2015
Photograph: Sofi Berenger