Aspects of love, London, review: Flatly ridiculous, utterly gorgeous Michael Ball musical
Aspects of Love review and star rating: ★★★★
I think I must be mad, but I really enjoyed this absolutely morally bankrupt musical about a weirdly incestual group that all seem to have sex with each other, no matter their relation to one another, and no matter how flatly ridiculous it all seems.
I’ve never seen an audience react like this before in years of reviewing theatre. When two young lovers Alex and Jenny discuss that they’re cousins, but oh well!, it’s one of a handful of moments where the Lyric Theatre’s shocked audience burst out laughing and start with confused chatter. They’re definitely laughing at the show, rather than with it, but then they’re laughing with it again not long after. Aspects of Love hooks and cooks you despite the bonkers plot, which must have been weird even in context of the overblown 1980s musicals of which this was a key addition.
Three-quarters of the theatre are here to see West End legend Michael Ball, who is in autopilot as rich Uncle George, whose nephew, 18-year-old Alex, has fallen in love with the beautiful stage star Rose. Their unlikely coupling feels like fertile territory for a musical, but by the end of the first half, Uncle George seems to be having an unexplained throuple marriage with his nephew’s former partner, which although weird enough, seems positively innocent by the second act when Alex gets over Rose’s departure by getting under his, erm, cousin.
You could moralise all day long, but the fact is that within musicals we can suspend our disbelief. Bonnie and Clyde, which opened recently, was criticised for glamourising two murderers, but the show is good, and haven’t we always glamourised Bonnie and Clyde? The West End is hardly doing anything new.
Where Aspects of Love succeeds is in its staggeringly beautiful production. Michael Ball has enormous star power that feels extracted from another era. His is a simple performance, he just has to stand and belt and be poured over by various women while smiling and looking fabulous with his St. Tropez fan, and he does it with sparkling confidence. It’s hard to pull off this type of male musical lead without it feeling clichéd, but Ball has always had his own little stamp. Never has any actor looked so comfortable being doted upon: Michael Ball is like musical theatre’s Cheshire cat.
Set and costume design by John McFarlanes bathes the characters in dreamlike colour palettes; big colourful sketches take us to Venice, rural France and into plush drawing rooms where George is fawned over by Giuletta, his artistic mistress, and Rose, on various chaise longues. It’s all gently hypnotic, drawn out by a group of incredible vocal performances, most notably Olivier-nominated Laura Pitt-Pulford as Rose, who does a great job of flitting around the stage looking wistful while really bringing it with her vocal. Jamie Bogyo as Alex convincingly plays 18 and 38 across the play’s 20-year-spanning story, and famous soprano Danielle de Niese is stunning as Giuletta.
Love Changes Everything, the famous song, is repeated a satisfying amount of times. You’ll be belting it during the interval, and for all its 1980s hammminess, it manages to feel emotionally resonant.
Lloyd Webber’s musicians are revealed a few times from behind the stage, high up where they add another colour to the palette.
It’s not all good: aside from the obvious plot challenges, there are some awkward script u-turns, and some of the sets looks cheap and under-sized for the stage, especially in the first act, which in itself takes a while to get going. Use of projection screens are the scourge of the production, ripping you away from the drama and the poetic beauty of it all – but thankfully they get less common as the show goes on.
Aspects of Love is easily the most perverse musical I’ve seen, but the most immersive too. Ultimately, it does exactly what good musical theatre should: make your stresses seem far away.
Aspects of Love is playing at the Lyric Theatre until 11 November 2023
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