Friday, 06 January 2017

She loves me

This revival of the 1963 musical at London’s Menier Chocolate Factory is full of warmth and humour

Written by Richard Barber

They don’t write musicals like this any more. Which is another way of saying that this is a gloriously old-fashioned confection and none the worse for that – not in this production, at least. (You slightly shudder at the thought of what it might be like in less assured hands.)

Based on an original play by Miklós László, it made its Broadway debut as a musical in 1963, with music by Jerry Bock, lyrics by Sheldon Harnick. It enjoyed two West End productions, morphed into a rather classy romcom in 1998 as You’ve Got Mail (email, in this instance) starring Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan, and it’s now to be found in a witty, elegant and supremely stylish revival at the always reliable Menier Chocolate Factory. Richard-Barber-colour-176

Georg and Amalia work in the same Budapest parfumerie and can barely stand being in the same space. What neither realises is that each is the recipient of the other’s amatory letters via a lonely hearts club. A wafer-thin plot, then, but increasingly irresistible courtesy of Paul Farnsworth’s beautiful sets and costumes, Rebecca Howell’s surprisingly athletic choreography (given the limitations of the Menier’s pocket-handkerchief stage), a faultless eight-piece band under Catherine Jayes’s baton and Matthew White’s breakneck direction.

And then there’s the cast. Lofty Mark Umbers as Georg conveys just the right blend of innate arrogance and puppy dog infatuation and sings like an angel. As does Scarlett Strallen as Amalia, who wouldn’t win a beauty contest according to one observer (not true).

Nice to see Les Dennis as the gruff proprietor with romantic problems of his own. And 17-year- old Callum Howells extracts maximum juice from his role as an ambitious errand boy. Dominic Tighe has the right caddish appeal as a two-timing lover but it is Katherine Kingsley who garners the biggest laughs of the evening as Ilona, a mockney shop assistant with a mordant line in put-downs. Her second act solo, A Trip To The Library, is worth the price of a ticket alone.

Mercifully, although the action is set in Budapest, the cast have eschewed mitteleuropean accents without in any way undermining the veracity of the setting. The action takes place in the run-up to Christmas, something caught perfectly in the frenetic number, Twelve Days To Christmas.

One small cavil. Since the audience waits all evening for Georg and Amalia to tumble to the fact that each is the other’s anonymous pen pal, the reveal is rather rushed. I’m sure I wasn’t alone in wanting the moment they fell into one another’s arms to last a little longer.

Until 4 March at the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Street, London SE1: 020-7378 1713, 

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