Bristol Old Vic

Romantics Anonymous

Comedy_and_tragedy_masks_without_backgro

January 2020

Like chocolate love musicals

Jan-THEATRE-best-of-the-rest-Romantics-A

I rarely see musicals; songs in a play don’t do it for me but I love being proved wrong.

Romantics Anonymous had a hugely deserved standing ovation from a packed audience on opening night at the Bristol Old Vic before the start of its international tour.

Shy Angelique, (the wonderful Carly Bawden) is a gifted French chocolate maker, who is wracked with social anxiety that causes her to (beautifully) faint if she feels the centre of attention.

Jean-Rene (Marc Antolin) is the emotionally inarticulate, nervously sweating boss of a struggling chocolate company. In his tank-top and luminescent frilly shirts he relies on self-help tapes, while his hilariously disparaging staff want him to man-up and save their livelihoods.

Around this gradually, awkwardly unfolding love affair, the whip-smart cast dance and sing through the shape-shifting, (choreographer Etta Murfitt) magically illuminated set (Lez Brothertson) that slips between chocolate factory, café, hotel and bedroom.

A small, accomplished live band, is tucked away almost in the roof of the theatre.

We see why Angelique is so reserved on meeting her wild, extrovert, brassy mother, who emerges half-dressed and toying with a man in his Y-fronts.

Superbly played by Sandra Marvin she struts and fondles her disposable lover while telling her daughter to get a grip and grow a backbone.

Meanwhile, Jean-Rene’s besuited dead father (Craig Pinder) is a staunch traditionalist who haunts his gentle son for not living up to rigorous standards.

There are lovely, gentle and funny scenes at the Alcoholics Anonymous-style meetings for those crippled with shyness, this is where everyone begins by announcing 'Je suis emotif'.

The meetings for the awkward are lightly done and tenderly hopeful.

You love the participants for their quirks, nail-biting and hand-wringing. It’s about time those who don’t blaze, bathe in their share of the subdued limelight.

The Lyon Chocolate Fair judge, Loizeau (Marc Antolin), is an egoist with swivelling hips and chef’s hat that wobbles like jelly as he cavorts festooned with medals made from spoons and forks, proclaiming Angélique’s chocolate is simply the best.

You have to agree even as she wants to melt into the background.

Based on the film Les Emotifs Anonymes, it’s expertly directed by super-talented Emma Rice (Malory Towers, Wise Children). It reminds me of the much-loved Amelie and Bar Chocolate films.

The songs, written by Christopher Dimond, are heart-warming, funny, and regularly risqué, bringing spontaneous applause from the audience.

Romantics Anonymous is gorgeous feast; an unusual love story which is sweet-toothed but never saccharine, so full of love, it pulls the heartstrings, makes you laugh out loud and connect with vulnerabilities that make us delightfully human.

The lovers finally taking to air and tumbling through it, your own feet hardly touch the ground as you leave. This is a sure-fire global success. Don’t miss this delectable show. Even if you don’t like musicals. Especially if you don’t.

Review by Melanie Greenwood

PHOTOS: All black and white rehearsal images in slideshow

by Steve Tanner

  • Romantics Anonymous is at Bristol Old Vic until Saturday, February 1.Evening performances at 7.30pm with matinee performances on Thursday. January 30 and Saturday February 1 at 2.30pm

  • Running time two hours 20 minutes including interval 

  • Recommended aged 8+

  • For more information go to bristololdvic.org.uk or call the box office on 0117 987 7877