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Hugh Wooldridge

Review: ROMANTICS ANONYMOUS at Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Romantics-Anonymous.jpg100 years ago, musical theatre as we know it was invented at the Princess Theatre in New York by the unlikely trio of Jerome Kern, Guy Bolton and PG Wodehouse. In 1917 alone, this trio had five shows running simultaneously on Broadway.

Subsequently, owing to the sheer number of individuals involved, musical theatre has the reputation of being one of the most complex art forms to get right.  History is littered with projects that have crashed and burned. But when all the stars align, musical theatre has the ability to transport and entertain an audience like nothing else.

Currently, at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, the stars are aligned and the performers and audience have the time of their lives. A wonderfully simple tale has been given the best possible production by Emma Rice and her collaborators. Two American authors, Christopher Dimond (lyrics) and Michael Kooman (music) have spent the last three years writing and honing a script taken from the Belgian-French film, Les Émotifs Anonymes, written by Jean-Pierre Améris and Philippe Blasband. In the mould of She Loves Me and The Baker’s Wife, and with flavours of Amélie and Chocolat, we meet two unlikely lovers and the tale is will they or won’t they get together. And nothing else.

The two romantic leads are beautifully played by Dominic March and the luminous Carly Bawden. Both actors perform with a simplicity and honesty that defines the whole production. The seven other performers are equally committed and hard-working and provide the solid foundation for the leads to soar. All the company shine throughout the evening in several different roles, with possibly one of the greatest performances currently on the English-speaking stage being given by Gareth Snook as M. Mumbler.

The music and lyrics are intelligent and literate and superbly performed - Emma Rice marshals her design and technical team with her customary assurance.  But the hero of the hour is Simon Hale and his brilliant orchestrations. With four sensational musicians (Jim Henson, Sophie Creaner, Mike Porter, Lilnos RIchards) every song is freshly minted with a unique tone and colour - for anyone interested in musical theatre orchestration and vocal arranging, rush to this masterclass by Music Supervisor, Nigel Lilley.

Tonight’s audience laughed and cried and genuinely cheered at the end of each act. The company, and all concerned, give a million percent to this tiny brilliant new jewel. Like chocolate, musical theatre is not to everyone’s taste. But, if you have just the soupçon of interest in this art form, do not miss this Christmas kiss to London.