24 September 2020

Romantic Anonymous - Live Stream Review.

Nothing can beat live theatre but thanks for Wise Children we've finally got a taste of live performance again even if it's from our own homes. Emma Rice's company have revived their critically acclaimed production of Romantic Anonymous for the week streaming it live and direct from The Bristol Old Vic stage into homes across the country and internationally as part of their virtual tour (I watched as part of the Midlands date, where it allows you to buy stream tickets through a local theatre) and it's utterly magnificent.

This whimsical joyous production felt like eating an entire box of chocolate treats. Every bite delivered enjoyment and warmth inside. Right from the get-go and the pre-show countdown with audience noise to Emma Rice's opening introduction, I felt quite emotional. Just being able to see a performance that's live (granted on a screen) again was so magical. 

A fantastic Carly Bawden as Angélique.
Photo Steve Tanner.

The musical tells the tale of Angélique (Carly Bawden), a gifted chocolate maker who is crippled with social anxiety, and Jean-René (Marc Antolin), boss of failing chocolate factory. Both characters are excellently drawn out. Whether is Angélique fainting when anyone looked at her or Jean-René who breaks out into embarrassing sweats. Once you break through their layers these two characters are perfectly matched as their love story develops.

One of the piece's biggest strengths is the warm relatable characters and performances that fill this delightful French world. The fragility is captured perfectly. Carly Bawden is particularly effective at catching Angélique inner anxiety. She is radiant from the get-go and has a really lovely stage presence. Marc Antolin is both tremendously awkward, with moments like the restaurant scene where Jean-René runs into swap his shirt to hide his sweats until he comes back in a different colour, and a delight to watch as he embodies the character's journey throughout the piece.

The piece is further enhanced by the talented company who all play more than one role. There's some fine work from the all of these company, from the always watchable Gareth Snook, a brilliant Sandra Marvin, Me'sha Bryan, Omari Douglas, Laura Jane Matthewson, Harry Hepple and Philip Cox (watch out for his hilarious moments during 'Savoir Faire'). I applaud the work of all the cast from creating an isolated bubble to get the show on to fantastic performances.

The cast of Romantics Anonymous. Photo by Steve Tanner.

This quirky romance has great musical numbers written by Christopher Dimond and Michael Kooman. They fit the style of the piece perfectly. Let's hope there's a cast recording in the works as I'd love to listen to the songs again. How great to have a brilliant live band too, here under the musical direction of Tom Brady. Emma Rice's book and direction allow the story to breathe and unfold beautifully. Etta Murfitt's delicate choreography further fits into the setting of the piece. Lez Brotherson's stage and costume design and Malcolm Rippeth's lighting design is effective, especially the use of various neon signs which set the scene of where the action of the story is happening.

The production really uses the camera well, especially with characters looking directly into the lens so you feel like they're directly talking to you. Whilst we can't be in the theatre currently, this really is the next best thing. The team who have gotten this week of live-streamed performances together really must be congratulated. It's perfectly captured and is a thoroughly enjoyable 2 and a half hours.

Rating - ⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐. A gorgeous outstanding production that brings out all the warm feelings and reminds us why we love live performance. Unmissable.

The show is being streamed all this week with shows on Thurs 24th Sept and Fri 25th Sept at 7.30pm UK tour time and Saturday 26th Sept at 9pm. There's a captioned and audio described showing on Monday 28th Sept at 7.30pm. Each night is being streamed as part of a virtual tour. Check out https://romanticsanonymous.com/ to book and for more information. The trailer is below.


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