An emotional feeling of love for, or a strong attraction towards, another person, and the courtship behaviors undertaken by an individual to express those overall feelings and resultant emotions. According to Wikipedia, the previous sentence is a definition of the word Romance. As you can see, Romance is more than a word, it is a concept that stretches through time to encompass every human throughout history and into the future. The reason I’m waxing lyrical about Romance is that the new show at Vauxhall’s Above the Stag Theatre likes the concept so much it uses the word twice in the title. Welcome then to Barry Harman and Keith Herrmann’s Romance Romance.
This really is a show of two halves that span time and location around a common theme. Act I: A Little Comedy is based on a short story by Arthur Schnitzler. Set in Turn of the century – that’s late 1800s to the younger readers who might think I mean 1999/2000 – Vienna, this is the story of Alfred Von Wilmers (Blair Robertson) and Valentin Weninger (Jordan Lee Davies) two strangers whose lives become intermingled thanks to their romantic notions. Both are wealthy men about town who – as they explain in letters to their best friends – have become weary of their glittering lives among Vienna’s wealthy elite. One day they decide to forgo their normal garb and, having been appropriately dressed by their valets (Ryan Anderson and Alex Lodge), go out into the streets disguised as ‘common folk’ and, as their paths cross, their eyes light upon each other and the flame of romance is kindled.
Act II: Summer Share brings us right up to date. Based on Jules Renard’s 1898 play Le pain de ménage, is set in the Hamptons where two married couples – Sam (Alex Lodge) & Ben (Jordan Lee Davies) along with Jeremy (Ryan Anderson) & Leonard (Blair Robertson) – are spending the summer. Sam and Jeremy are old college buddies and have been best friends for what feels like forever. They are as close as two people can be that aren’t involved in a romantic liaison and, at times, their husbands are wary that the friendship may just possibly be more than platonic – although, on a surface level, the four men get on just fine – they could almost be British in the way they forgo discussing elephants in rooms. And one night, after a game of twister, Ben and Leonard head to their bedrooms for an early night leaving Sam and Jeremy with the moonlight, the soft summer breeze and lots of alcohol. What could possibly go wrong now?
Two distinct musical plays united by romance. This is a cracker of a night. Both plays are really lovely – though if I had to chose I preferred Act II: Summer Share – and both had some really excellent musical numbers. My own favourite song came from Act I: The Little Comedy and was called ‘A Rustic Country Inn’. Lyrically it perfectly summed up my own feeling about the countryside. But, to be honest, there was not a bad song in the production and all four actors – under the baton of Musical Director Aaron Clingham – really gave their all.
Romance Romance is a genuine ensemble piece. All four actors are involved throughout, with two having the lead in each act, and all four manage to give each of their characters the breath of life that lets them live in their respective world and roles. The reliance of each actor on the others is evident from the start, not only in the characterisation but also the choreography and movement of Director Steven Dexter and Associate Director Summer Strallen which moved the boys around David Shields’s rather lovely set with style and grace and, despite the stage size available, a waltz and a polka to boot.
Romance Romance is a fun production that is easy to love. The two stories are not overly complicated but both have hidden depths and don’t necessarily go the way you expect them to. The acting and staging are both first-rate. The show was originally about heterosexual couples, but with a simple tweaking of some lyrics the show works brilliantly for an all-male cast and, I imagine would translate just as well for an all-female cast, proving that, yet again Romance Romance has no boundaries.
Review by Terry Eastham
In late nineteenth century Vienna, two high-society lovers bored of their inconsequential upper-class liaisons, decide to disguise themselves as the struggling working class in a bid reinvent their sexual identities. Can their love survive without the comforts and luxuries they’re used to? A hundred years on two disaffected, thirty-something couples rent a beach house in The Hamptons for the summer. Will, what begins as harmless extramarital flirtation explode into something more?
Above The Stag presents:
A Classic Broadway Musical Reimagined
Music & lyrics by Keith Herrmann
Book by Barry Harman
Directed by Steven Dexter
Associate Director & Musical staging by Summer Strallen
12 March – 06 April 2019
Tuesday – Saturday 7.30pm, Sunday 2pm and 6pm
ABOVE THE STAG THEATRE
72 Albert Embankment London, SE1 7TP