Love justifies everything

Aspects of Love, Theatre Royal, NorwichThis national tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit show has been the region's hottest theatre ticket for a while.

Aspects of Love, Theatre Royal, Norwich

This national tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber's hit show has been the region's hottest theatre ticket for a while. A fresh production at the newly refurbished Theatre Royal headed by David Essex (at the personal invitation apparently, of Lord Webber himself) was bound to be a draw.

For those who've not been there since its re-opening, the 1300-seat Norwich Theatre Royal, has undergone a spectacular £10 million transformation. It really is something, a star attraction in its own right.

Aspects of Love, which originally opened in 1989, tells a complicated, semi-autobiographical and amoral tale based on David Garnett's 1955 novella. Garnett, a Bloomsbury figure, wasn't unfamiliar with the convolutions of bed hopping, damn-the-consequences love affairs and general hedonism.

The main song, Love Changes Everything (the only song that you find yourself humming on the way out) could really be reinterpreted as Love Justifies Anything as far as the mainly unlikeable characters are concerned. Fortunately, they become more engaging as the story, spread over 17 years, unfolds.

It involves two men - one young, the other his old roué of an uncle George (David Essex), and the two women who shuttle between them, a French actress and an Italian sculptress. It's all very ménage à trois stuff, the mood varying from a brooding fatefulness, to anger and to unbridled indulgence. It's set in France and Nikolai Foster's production, which has several steamy moments, captures some of the cinematic qualities of the French New Wave films that followed obsessively entangled relationships.

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David Essex is just the ticket. When a young singer, his voice had a husky, gravelly quality. It still has and it's absolutely right for George. More than that he's a skilled actor with both presence and charisma. Around him everyone else has space to revolve. Shona Lindsay as Rose, who laments that while she loves two men she only - poor love - has one life, is very strong and Matt Rawle's Alex is intelligently played and powerfully sung.

Foster's direction, Gary Lloyd's choreography, the revolving tower sets are top drawer. To pursue a constant theme of mine, the sound quality is excellent. It needs to be, especially in a musical without dialogue. Sound works when just for a moment you wonder whether it is amplified or not. The human voice is just enhanced and the balance right.

The Lloyd Webber sickly sweetness and repeated musical phrase motifs are not always to my taste. But he certainly knows what audiences like.

Ivan Howlett