From the moment the ensemble stepped off the trolleybus onto the stage and the doors of Maraczek’s Parfumerie swung open, I was hooked. She Loves Me is a visual feast from start to finish, making the most of every inch of the stunning set designed by Ben Stones. Shop counters fit together like jigsaw pieces, bicycles and beds come and go, and a French-style café appears out of nowhere. Blink for even a second and you’re bound to miss something – maybe even the arrival of autumn or winter!
She Loves Me tells a classic story, which has been adapted more than once from the original play by Miklós László; most famously into the 1998 film You’ve Got Mail, starring Meg Ryan and Tom Hanks.
It’s a simple plot: two co-workers, Amalia and Georg, who show a strong dislike for one another on the shop floor, are in fact secret pen pals who are falling in love.
But nothing about this production is simple: not the comic timing, or the eight-piece band that creates such a full sound from Jason Carr’s beautiful orchestrations, or the lighting design by Jessica Hung Han Yun… and certainly not the clever lyrics and beautiful melodies by Sheldon Harnick and Jerry Bock, which truly drive Joe Masteroff’s book forward with every line and emotion. I especially enjoyed the creative and energetic choreography by Ewan Jones, which was highlighted in the ‘Romantic Atmosphere’ of the Café Imperial and in the ‘Twelve Days to Christmas’ but shone throughout.
This musical may not be well known to many – although it’s been a favourite of mine for years – perhaps because it is at heart an intimate ensemble piece and was never filmed for the big screen, as so many other musicals of its era were. However, that unfamiliarity shouldn’t put you off, especially when you consider the calibre of the cast brought together by director Robert Hastie.
Including an outstanding ensemble of seven members – who between them bought more cosmetics in just under three hours than I think I’ve ever bought in my life, and who did it with style and precision – this production is full to the brim with extraordinary talent. Each and every member of the principal cast deserves a mention: Adele Anderson as the Café’s Maîtress d’, Lewis Cornay as the young Arpad Laszlo desperate to make his mark in the world, Andy Coxon as the loveable rogue Steven Kodaly who thankfully gets his comeuppance, Marc Elliott as the ever-supportive family man Ladislav Sipos, Kaisa Hammarlund as desperate-for-love Ilona Ritter who just wants a man to treat her well, and Karl Seth as shop owner Zoltan Maraczek who is on a relationship rollercoaster with an unexpected end.
Particularly worthy of note, though, are Alex Young and David Thaxton in the roles of Amalia Balash and Georg Nowack. They have voices you could listen to every day and never get bored, and the attention to detail in their portrayal of the characters is exquisite, but it is their relationship that makes them shine. From their caustic sparring on the shop floor, to their dramatic confrontation in the café, and from the pivotal sick-bed visit (‘Vanilla Ice Cream’) and the subsequent realisation of love (‘She Loves Me’) to the climactic final scene, this pairing is exceptional and entirely authentic. It is also extremely refreshing to see a soprano in a comedy role, and Young plays it effortlessly, all while hitting some of the most beautiful high notes that I’ve heard on stage in years.
This Christmas offering from the Crucible Theatre may be a rare revival of an underrated musical theatre classic, but it is also the perfect antidote to our current difficult reality, and it was wonderful to be carried off to this small Hungarian village, even if only for a little while.
“Please call again!” sing the cast in the finale. Well, I would love to! Is tomorrow too soon?
She Loves Me is playing at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield until Saturday 15th January. Relaxed, audio described, signed and captioned performances are available. More information and tickets can be found at https://www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk/events/she-loves-me
Reviewer: Jo Tillotson
Reviewed: 16th December 2021
North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★