FringeReview UK 2016
Returning to direct a consummate version of Love Story the musical Louis Craig who directed a magnificent A Little Night Music at Brighton Little Theatre again teams up with Gary Nock musical director is almost equally omniscient in a small stage that seems in Cath Prenton’s versatile use of wheeled items (including use of keyboard) to possess infinite depth and suggestiveness. Beverley Grover’s lighting is more prominent than in some productions to enhance this.
Louis Craig who directed a magnificent A Little Night Music at Brighton Little Theatre, returns to direct a consummate version of Love Story the musical. Gary Nock again musical director is almost equally omniscient in a small stage that seems in Cath Prenton’s versatile use of wheeled items (including use of keyboard) to possess infinite depth and suggestiveness. Beverley Grover’s lighting is more prominent than in some productions to enhance this. BLT’s musicals are often given additional dates: this level of artistry justifies it.
Use of three screens to portray the heroine Jenny Cavalieri as girl, a football match, fleeting places including a marital home, weave sensitively into the fabric, giving a further contemporary sheen to a 2016 update almost fifty years on from the original. The tale of poor Italian-heritage music scholarship Radcliffe girl meets footballing Harvard Law Wasp marrying to disapproval to be hi-jacked by something more forceful, is a perennial story. The wedding selfies and much else brighten relevance. There are chronological question-marks, however, not the fault of this production.
Don’t come seeking replication of the movie here. That magnificent untruth ‘love means never having to say you’re sorry’ is never uttered. The famous spoiler first line is though and provides the first number ‘What Can You Say’ with its falling descant chromatics, haunting and memorable taken up by the ensemble. It’s an ensemble piece throughout and only gradually do protagonists Jenny (Abby Fell) and Oliver (Jack Ambrose) drift to the fore.
Fell’s a wondrously ardent, fresh expressive and quick actor; you can see her eyes dance and light up, convincing us she’s forever in love – to say she’d make a superb Rosalind one day suggests something of her quality. She plays keyboard too, and though her voice isn’t yet large – she’s possibly the youngest member of cast though musically trained – it’s clear, true, and supported by vibrant acting.
Ambrose is already a professional in the U.S. He looks the part of a heroic footballer, swelling with a burly authority yet sensitive where necessary, shuddering a vulnerability that might crack, yet never does in his portrayal of a man who has more of his father in him than either would care to admit. He also edits the videos seen throughout.
Conflict is provided primarily by Oliver’s parents, the Presbyterian-seeming Oliver Barrett III and wife Alison, as Neil Sellmann steers a firm course between sentiment and paternal authority, only giving in at the end, but showing all through he only needs a shy return of love. Sellman’s demeanour shades hauteur tinged with heart. Sarah Edinburgh has less to do but personifies stiffly welcoming New England.
Jenny’s father the pasta-chef Phil has a larger part, and Marc Valentine sings – as any Italian character has to. Valentine’s altogether warmer Phil is also more volatile and he’s clearly a mainstay of the ensemble. His dead wife – here Elise Lovelock – provides memorably firm, warm-voiced support, with a walk-on as a red-dressed ghost. She’s just the most prominent of a fine ensemble (Davison, Wright, Langridge, Mobsby). This adaptation’s both unafraid to remove some saccharine yet surely adds some of its own. It feels right though. Ernest Stroud steps out as a young, convincing doctor reminding us that in the U. S. you have to pay for any but the most basic treatment.
Some of the songs Goodall adds are really memorable, though the original theme tune’s evident played by Fell. ‘What Happens Now?’ after a fist night of love, ‘Summer’s Day’ the joyous ensemble wedding, and ‘Everything We Know’ are perhaps the outstanding pieces. There’s also the vibrant band: Nock’s keyboard, Meg Turvey’s and Alexine Lambert’s violins, Alfred Western’s cello and Nathan McDonough’s guitar.
Jenny’s ‘Nocturnes’ wistfully addresses what music she’d play to her future children. Mentioning Callas and the Beatles, still very contemporary when this first appeared in 1970, it’s striking that in a version updating everything (even Oliver senior was in the 1988, not 1948 Olympics) Jenny’s cultural references stay so firmly in aspic. As do some cultural assumptions like Jenny’s career. The familial conflict too is perhaps a little dated, though Wasps haven’t shifted much. Finally the medical storyline despite the increased bill needs updating.
Still there’s much sparky dialogue from book-and-lyrics writer Stephen Clark adapted from Erich Segal’s original, though early on Jenny states she doesn’t feel she can be romanced by for instance a weedy viola player. Viola jokes are so British!
Period caveats apart – and they could surely be touched in – the refreshing treatment of this enormously affecting musical is its British bite working so well with Jenny’s feisty character, and youth generally. BLT and the Craig/Nock team have scored another bull’s-eye which by the end is pretty watery.