Tuesday, February 10, 2015
'She Loves Me' at the Landor Theatre, 9th February 2015
Tuesday, February 10, 2015 by londoncitynights
Arriving strewn with hearts, roses and pastel hues of all shades, She Loves Me couldn't be more targeted at Valentine's Day romantics unless it was reciting soppy poetry and shoving a box of chocolates under your nose. This musical, based on the 1937 play Parfumerie by Hungarian author Miklós László, first sprung onto the Broadway stage in 1963 and has experienced intermittent revivals ever since.
She Loves Me is a romance stymied by farcical misunderstandings and comedic coincidences. The setting is interwar Budapest (though confusingly everyone speaks with American accents), specifically 'Maraczek's Parfumerie'. This is an upscale cosmetics boutique that prides itself on the quality of its products and the happiness of their customers. Run by the curmudgeonly Mr Maraczek (Ian Dring), the staff comprises of a slick, mint-aproned gang of salesmen; Georg (John Sandberg), Ladislav (David Herzog) and Kodaly (Matthew Wellman). Assisting this crack team are the ditzy Ilona (Emily Lynne) and chipper young delivery boy Arpad (Joshua LeClair).
Things are bobbling along like clockwork as the play opens, the happy customers dealt with in a flurry of perfume spritzes, squirts of cold cream and buttery compliments. But all too soon a spanner is thrown into the works - a spanner named Amalia Balash (Charlotte Jaconelli). She's an excellent saleswoman who we soon learn is wrapped up in an epic romance with her penpal - a man she only knows as 'Dear Friend'. She immediately rubs the stressed Georg the wrong way, the two becoming instant enemies.
|John Sandberg as Georg|
But here's the twist! You see Georg is also engaged in some steamily intellectual correspondence with a mystery woman. You don't have to be Nostradamus to tell where this is going. So we have a couple that are in love with each other on paper, yet hate each other in the flesh. Are there more potent recipes for hilarity than this? Will this unlikely couple ever hit it off? Isn't this a bit like the 1998 Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan romcom You've Got Mail? (Yes, yes and yes).
We're firmly in old school farce territory, the plot happily bumbling away and the script supplying a constant stream of lightly funny gags. If I was feeling charitable I'd describe this tone as 'classic', but frankly 'old-fashioned' is a better fit. I suspect even on its 1963 premiere it was considered slightly quaint, delighting those with rosy memories of the Cary Grant/Jean Harlow/Katherine Hepburn era of 1930s screwball comedies.
So why revive it now? Well, in the ornate, pastel coloured set, fussily designed costumes and mannered characters behaviour I detected a more than a smidge of Wes Anderson's excellent The Grand Budapest Hotel. Anderson's 2014 film marked his first unalloyed mainstream success, audiences going wild for his gossamer light, aesthetically precise tale of oldschool class and exotic peril. She Loves Me hungrily eyes it, hoping to bottle some of the same lightning.
Sadly it doesn't quite manage it. Though well-performed by a talented cast, the show is hobbled by a bloated script that gets bogged down in giving practically every character lengthy subplots. For example, large chunks of the show are devoted to the romantic travails of the unlucky Ilona or the ambitions of delivery boy Arpad. There's nothing wrong with the way those characters are played, but the constant narrative digressions only distract from the central romance.
|Emily Lynne as Ilona (l) and Charlotte Jaconelli as Amalia (r)|
This adds up to a tiring experience. Heading in at half 7, a notice on the door promised a 10pm finish, but we wrapped up sometime between quarter and twenty past. Close to three hours (including an interval) is an awfully long time to devote to a fluffy romance musical. I can't help but think the whole thing would be much more palatable if the unnecessary subplots were shorn away to leave a lean, fast paced 90 minutes. As it stands the length makes the constant romantic confusion annoying rather than cute; I found myself having to resist the urge to yell "he's the guy you're writing to you idiot!" at the dippy heroine.
She Loves Me is a rather frustrating show to review; other than the length there's nothing obviously wrong with it. The principles all give decent turns, with the stand-outs the eminently impish Ian Dring, the likeable naïvety of Emily Lynne and Charlotte Jaconelli's impressive set of lungs. Conversely the show is lacking in 'sit up and pay attention' moments; the romantic chemistry passable rather than electric; the music tolerable rather than catchy; the gags permanently stuck in the gear of mildly amusing.
There's undoubtedly a place in theatre for easy-to-digest, productions that make no demands of the audience and unchallengingly rumble towards obvious conclusions. But this deeply conservative style leaves me bored as hell. She Loves Me isn't an awful experience, but it's difficult to find anything particularly praiseworthy here either.
She Loves Me is at the Landor Theatre until 7th March. Tickets £20, available here.Tags: Charlotte Jaconelli , ian dring , John sandberg , Landor theatre , musical , play , She Loves Me , theatre