Wise Children and director Emma Rice serve up a delightful musical comedy confection based on the quirky French film Les Émotifs Anonymes, written by Jean-Pierre Améris and Philippe Blasband, with this real-time broadcast from Bristol Old Vic.
Angélique (Carly Bawden) is a gifted chocolate maker inhibited by social anxiety and Jean-René (Marc Antolin) the boss of a failing chocolate factory. Angélique is so timid, she faints when people look at her; Jean-René is so awkward he relies on self-help tapes and is prone to embarrassing sweating. When Angélique takes a job in Jean-René’s struggling factory, a fragile love affair unfolds.
Funny, tender, and painfully awkward in moments we will all recognise, Romantics Anonymous – book by Emma Rice, Lyrics by Christopher Dimond, Music by Michael Kooman – is a delicious love story about breaking the mould and finding the courage to be happy.
The musical aspect provides the perfect medium for our socially awkward pair to get to know each other with Antolin and Bawden both superb in capturing the idioms of their characters in this ‘will they, won’t they’ romance. But the ultimate success of any potential liaison is driven through the myriad of supporting characters who are present throughout providing the necessary energy to move the story along as the talented ensemble (Me’esha Bryan; Philip Cox; Omari Douglas; Harry Hepple; Sandra Marvin; Laura Jane Matthewson; Gareth Snook) cleverly flit between different personalities with instantly recognisable characteristics, from the staff at the chocolate factory to the attendees at ‘les émotifs anonymes’ meetings, with the ghost of Jean-René’s father (Cox) and Angélique’s mischievous mother (Marvin) thrown in for good measure and with perhaps just a little nod to Rice’s previous reign at Shakespeare’s Globe.
Lez Brotherston’s original design and staging proves the adage that less is often more with signage displayed to state the setting and props only used where mime and sound effects are insufficient. The live musical accompaniment (MD/Piano – Tom Brady; Cello – Sarah Bowler; Woodwind – Sophie Creaner; Percussion – Mike Parkin) is beautiful and appropriately French and supported by great vocals from all the cast, and accentuates the quirky narrative of the story in conjunction with some delightful choreography from Etta Murfitt.
There’s another story here as well though which deserves to be told: the production was scheduled to run at Bristol Old Vic prior to a national tour, all of which was curtailed by the current pandemic. Rice and her team came together and by creating their own bubble have been able to put this production together for live transmission. In a completely philanthropic gesture, they have allowed the tour venues such as Liverpool Everyman to directly sell the virtual tickets with each night’s live performance effectively being transmitted to a different geographical region. It is equally fitting that at the start of proceedings, Rice introduces us to the often unsung heroes of the technical team at the Bristol Old Vic – production; lighting; sound; vision; cameras; comms – who are making this whole thing possible.
This is a wonderful production in the most challenging of circumstances – just imagine performing live without the immediate energy of the audience to feel and respond to – and we are not disappointed with this feel good story providing the perfect lift in these difficult times. I can’t be the only hoping that the original tour will be rescheduled when theatre’s re-open properly again.
Romantics Anonymous is available to view through to 28th September 2020 (excluding Sunday 27th) with tickets available via https://www.wisechildrendigital.com/booktickets
Bristol Old Vic is the oldest continuously working theatre in the English speaking world, further details https://bristololdvic.org.uk/
Reviewer: Mark Davoren
Reviewed: 23rd September 2020
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★