Romance Romance, An LGBT Production at Above the Stag Theatre
Don’t we all love a bit of Romance?….
I walked out on an absolute high after a charming evening of musical theatre in Vauxhall, at Above the Stag. It was my first visit to this great venue; an Off-West End theatre underneath the arches on the Albert Embankment with a focus on producing LGBT-themed shows.
Romance Romance started life in 1987, off-Broadway, before successfully transferring to Broadway the following year. Ten years later it opened at the Gielgud Theatre in London.
Stephen Dexter’s wonderfully re-imagined production is performed by a cast of four talented male actors, in which two of the originally female roles make a gender swap. Swaps seem to be all the rage lately….as also seen recently in the West End production of Sondheim’s Company, in which the central figure of Bobby is successfully changed from male to female.
Romance Romance’s book and lyrics were written by Barry Harman, with a score by Keith Herrman. Musically it’s a real treat, the fab four-piece orchestra set at the back of the stage adding enormously to the evening’s entertainment.
This is a musical of two parts – in fact two very different plays, set decades apart. The first act – ‘The Little Comedy’ – is based on a short story by Arthur Schnitzler, set in Vienna in the late 1800’s.
Two well-heeled gentlemen – Alfred (strikingly played by Blair Robertson) and Valentin (perfectly captured in a marvelously witty fashion by Jordan Lee Davies) – lament about love, and longing, their narratives unfolding through a series of letters written to friends.
Jaded and weary of their privileged existences, unsuccessful in their pursuit of true love; unknown to one another, Alfred and Valentin take new roles – each masking his true identity and prosperity, ‘dressing down’ as a ‘Common Man’, hoping to find romance amongst less rarified society.
Meeting by chance, the two men fall deeply in love, challenging their true and their assumed personas; a situation all the more poignant for being set at a time when homosexuality was taboo.
Act Two, ‘ Summer Share’, takes place in the present day at the Hamptons, where Sam and Jeremy and their respective partners holiday together.
Life is fraught, with day-to-day challenges and the demands of long working hours, bringing up young children – and a lack of romance. These four do get along fabulously, enjoying a game of Twister and much general joviality.
But later old mates Sam (touchingly portrayed by Alex Lodge) and Jeremy (a brilliant Ryan Anderson) are left alone…
Attracted to one other, and fueled by alcohol, both are tempted to stray as they question the lack of passion and interest in their relationships. The scene is really beautifully played by these young actors – who also have impressively strong singing voices. Their dilemma creates a great cliffhanger and a moral decision for the audience too, which is forced to consider questions of right and wrong. Do they, don’t they? Should they, shouldn’t they?
With four strong actors at its helm, four fantastic voices and some superb choreography, Romance Romance has all the ingredients for a successful run. Full of spirit, infectious charm and humour, it’s a play about the desires of the human heart. Love: falling in-and-out of it: the delicious joy and pain of it all.
Until 6 April at:
Above The Stag Theatre
72 Albert Embankment London, SE1 7TP