Long before Love Island had us hooked on a group of strangers bed hopping, Andrew Lloyd Webber, Don Black and Charles Hart were keeping it all in the family with the musical Aspects of Love. It turned out to be a flop on Broadway, but the original London production launched the career of Michael Ball and forever associated him with the show’s most famous number ‘Love Changes Everything’.
The script has been reworked many times in the intervening years, and this is the first time the ‘definitive’ version has been staged in the West End, opening at the Lyric Theatre under the direction of Jonathan Kent. It also sees the return of Michael Ball to the production for the first time since he originated the role of Alex Dillingham. But the years have passed, and Ball returns this time as Alex’s uncle George.
Based on a novella by David Garnett, it aims to show love in various different forms; romantic certainly, as young Alex (Jamie Bogyo) and the older actress Rose (Laura-Pitt Pulford), but familial love too such as that between George and his daughter Jenny (Katie Mitten on press night).
But if only it were that simple, the characters swap lovers more often than their costumes and it starts to veer into farce territory. It’s probably telling that in one big emotional scene, something that should have pulled on the heart-strings was met with incredulous laughter from the audience.
Something else that seemed to ruffle the audience’s feathers is one kind of love that starts to emerge between two cousins, and begins while one of them is still underage. This part of the plot has always been a thorn in the side of Aspects of Love and remains so in this revival.
That said, the sung through score is particularly beautiful; gentle with just enough power ballads to convince you there’s some form of romance to be found here. Obviously, there’s Michael Ball pulling out all the stops with ‘Love Changes Everything’ receives a rapturous welcome in the auditorium.
John Mcfarlanes set blends modern with traditional, a sliding screen featuring video projections rather niftily takes us from one scene to the next, while the backdrops are formed of watercolour style landscapes (a nod to George’s love of art forgery) indicating whichever city this piece of the story is set in.
The cast all make a good enough job of what they’ve got to work with, but it’s very clear that Michael Ball is the star of the show, not just with vocals but also the way each line is delivered with perfect timing, he clearly knows this show inside out.
If love really does change everything, perhaps it should have started with the plot, which will baffle some new audience members, but those who remember the original will undoubtedly revel in seeing it return in a reworked and modernised production, with the return of Michael Ball to Aspects of Love being a wonderful full circle theatrical moment.