The Hayes Theatre, Sydney
November 28, 2018
According to the opening number in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s 1989 musical Aspects of Love, “love changes everything.” This is especially true if that love is a deeply unsettling attraction you feel for an old flame’s 15-year-old daughter, who – spoiler alert – is also your cousin. Even without this creepy romance (which spans much of the musical’s ponderous second act), the meandering plot, vapid lyrics and work-in-progress title of Aspects of Love offer little to warrant a revival. That said, this production by Andrew J. Bevis for the Hayes – aided by a solid cast and some great singing – does a lot with the little that Lloyd Webber’s book (adapted from the novella by David Garnett) and Don Black and Charles Hart’s lyrics have to offer.
Caitlin Berry and Jonathan Hickey in Aspects of Love at the Hayes Theatre. Photo © David Hooley
Bevis sets the production in an abandoned theatre, whose ghost light evokes the ghosts of past loves that gently haunt the characters and locales throughout the show. Steven Smith’s clever set design – lit evocatively by John Rayment – dissolves between scenes, allowing Bevis to deftly and fluidly guide the audience through the first act’s jumping locations and timeline, Tim Chappel’s costumes effectively aiding the story-telling.
The scenes are bound together by the cast’s committed performances, bringing some depth to thinly drawn characters. Caitlin Berry – who recently starred in the Hayes’ She Loves Me – plays struggling actor Rose Vibert, who attracts the attentions of earnest 17-year-old Alex Dillingham (Jonathan Hickey) when he sees her perform in a small theatre in Montpellier in 1947. Dillingham invites Rose to a villa owned by his painter uncle George (Grant Smith), whose own interest in the actor is sparked, notwithstanding his lover in Paris, sculptor Giulietta Trapani (Stefanie Jones), and a past tragedy. Across 17 years the characters come together and drift apart in various romantic configurations, some of which are skated through breezily (though Bevis makes explicit the romantic subtext between Rose and Giulietta) and others agonised over at length.
Stefanie Jones and Grant Smith in Aspects of Love at the Hayes Theatre. Photo © David Hooley
But the piece sits awkwardly in the 21st century and there are moments that show the piece’s age. “Rose, I ought to strangle you!” says George affectionately, lamenting the “drama” she brings with her – after she’s just been on the receiving of end of what wouldn’t be unfair to describe as assault with a deadly weapon (the aftermath of which lurches into a comic, G&S-style send-up of English politeness).
The cast do a courageous job of challenging a 1990 panning in the New York Times that said Aspects of Love “generates about as much heated passion as a visit to the bank”, but the moments of real feeling are few and far between. The standout is Jones, who brings escalating vocal power to There is More to Love, and a wild energy to Hand Me the Wine and the Dice, delivered with vibrant defiance. Hickey captures the needy melodrama of adolescence as Alex – his voice light early on and darkening in the opening number’s climax (which was a hit in the hands of Michael Ball, who first sung the role), and he’s well matched with Berry in their duet Seeing is Believing – but it’s not a character that elicits much sympathy from the audience. Nor does George, though Smith gives us a good rascal and his warm baritone caresses Other Pleasures, his song of love for his daughter.
Jonathan Hickey, Grant Smith, Caitlin Berry, Matthew Manahan and Ava Carmont in Aspects of Love at the Hayes Theatre. Photo © David Hooley
Berry gives us more complexity in Rose, however, and her voice shines throughout – but it’s in her final Anything but Lonely that she really lets rip. Gemma Keighran does a great job as the precocious young Jenny (a role she shares with Charlee Kwintner) while Ava Carmont perfectly captures a girl on the cusp of womanhood as the (slightly) older Jenny. David Hooley, Wendy-Lee Purdy and Matthew Manahan are all confident in supporting roles and the ensemble acquits themselves well, particularly in the lively Hand me the Wine and the Dice (Danielle Evrat’s choreography), though the large forces feel like an unnecessary fleshing out of what is at heart a chamber piece.
The ensemble in Aspects of Love at the Hayes Theatre. Photo © David Hooley
The music is well-handled by a 12-piece put together from the relatively new group Ensemble Apex, led by Musical Director Geoffrey Castles. But this isn’t Lloyd Webber’s most brilliant score and the recurring motifs drawn from Love Changes Everything feel more repetitive than unifying – what was ground-breaking in Evita has become a tad paint by numbers by Aspects of Love.
Bevis’s production is beautifully put together – this is where the love is most evident – and despite the large cast and orchestra it fits neatly in the tiny Hayes. But it does little to ameliorate the problems inherent in the musical itself, and even with the cast’s fine performances, it isn’t enough to make you fall in love.
Aspects of Love is at the Hayes Theatre, Sydney, until December 30