The Winter Selection: “Dancing on air”

The cast of Romantics Anonymous
Photo credit: Steve Tanner

Every time something in theatre that I really love comes to an end, somehow there’s always another show waiting there to catch me. As you’re probably well aware, I’d been dreading Sunday 15 October 2017 for a long time, as it meant the beginning of the end – the last performance from Emma Rice’s final summer season, prior to her very last season at that iconic building. But only five days later I was back (an appropriately bittersweet time; the ‘LOVE’ lights had already been removed) as it was the start of The Winter Selection. I hadn’t intended on coming back so soon – I actually didn’t realise the turnaround was quite so sudden – but when the cast of Romantics Anonymous was announced there was no way I’d miss the very first performance.

And I’ve not looked back from there! Obviously I was still quite emotional from the previous weekend’s events but, having seen it five times now (including press night), I can confirm that the tears will come anyway. Mostly happy tears though, I hasten to add! Backed by the biggest smile it’s possible to fix on your face.

Marc Antolin in Romantics Anonymous
Photo credit: Steve Tanner

I’ve always been quite shy & awkward; whilst the shyness has decreased significantly over the years thanks to shop work, going to university and moving away from home, I think awkwardness is something that you can never quite shake off. Not completely, anyway. So for a show to come along that has different social anxieties at its core is very enticing indeed – the protagonists’ quirks and difficulties have moments of lightness, as well as seriousness, but are always treated in a kind-hearted way (as you’d expect from Emma Rice). Being able to immediately relate to these characters on some level is but one reason I love the show so much.

I adore all things French (I’ve probably mentioned my penchant for Paris on here at some point over the past three years), and the musical is based on a French-Belgian film from a few years ago called Les Émotifs Anonymes. Perfect, right? I’ve since watched the film (though being the klutz that I am I somehow ordered a Dutch import DVD, so no English subtitles – good thing my French is still passable!) and it’s fascinating to see what’s been kept (including some quite intricate little details) and what has been changed.

Frankly, you can’t ignore the fact that every time you see it you get a free piece of chocolate. As long as you have the patience to wait for “le moment de magique” before you eat it – but considering they tell you, mock-sternly, not to eat it straightaway… I certainly wouldn’t go against those instructions!

Carly Bawden in Romantics Anonymous
Photo credit: Steve Tanner

Kooman and Dimond have created some beautiful, French-tinged music to soundtrack the whole show. Not only is there a quite jazzy feel to some of the songs that instantly evokes Paris and classic black & white films, but all the numbers are instantly hummable – and the lyrics are just wonderful. They range from funny, clever rhymes (Savoir Faire) to heart-stoppingly poignant lines (Don’t Let Her Go), and pure, unconstrained joy (Dancing On Air). To top it all off, they even have an interval song (it’s absolutely worth wandering out of the auditorium for). Basically, we need a cast recording of some kind. Pretty please.

Visually speaking it’s just as good. Lez Brotherston’s minimal set combined with Malcolm Rippeth’s gorgeous lighting is a thing of true beauty indeed. The ways in which the signs are lit up at the back to signify the location are laugh-out-loud funny (every time, without fail), and a nice simple way of placing the emphasis back on the music & words to tell the story. Brotherston’s costume designs are also a treat for the eyes, harking back to the film with some specific references, as well as making the most of all things typically French – and a particularly nice touch of cutlery medals for chocolate-judging Loizeau (added during previews). As ever, Etta Murfitt has come up trumps with her choreography, fitting a surprising amount into such a small & intimate space.

Dominic Marsh and Philip Cox in Romantics Anonymous
Photo credit: Steve Tanner

And I haven’t even talked about the cast yet. This is one of the main things I’ll miss at the Globe post-Emma Rice; the performers she’s brought into both spaces are exactly the kind I love to watch, and bringing a few of them back for multiple shows has made this year feel like the Globe was my little community. As if to celebrate that, four familiar faces from the summer are back for Romantics Anonymous: Carly Bawden, Dominic Marsh, Marc Antolin & Gareth Snook. They’re joined by the equally wonderful Joanna Riding, Philip Cox, Natasha Jayetileke, Joe Evans & Lauren Samuels.

To be honest, if you start me talking about them I probably won’t be able to stop… They are the complete package; beautiful singers, committed to movement & physicality, and completely hilarious. Gareth Snook, in particular, has this knack of making the audience hysterical with the slightest change in facial expression (he is the epitome of the stereotypical pretentious French waiter) and really milks his moments as Madame Marini – not to mention his role in the support group!

Carly Bawden & Dominic Marsh are magnificent leads. The most beautiful leads in the world. (I’m quoting the show, don’t worry – I haven’t completely lost my ability to articulate myself!) Their characters are both “émotif” but in slightly different ways, though there is a general sense of awkwardness about the pair of them; it’s completely endearing and also makes for some wonderfully funny exchanges (“My hands are sweaty.” — “Have you seen my armpits?”). They couldn’t have been more perfectly cast.

Gareth Snook and the cast of Romantics Anonymous
Photo credit: Steve Tanner

Given that this show has been developing over the past few years, it’s almost criminal that it only has an 11-week run – and surely suggests that this isn’t the last we’ve seen of Angélique & Jean-René… I really hope so, anyway, as it’s yet another example of Emma Rice’s genius. It’s obviously been made for this particular space, but it could definitely work in some of the regular Kneehigh touring theatres (having followed a few around now!); extra life for the show, and it might stop some of the whining about the seats (it’s a replica Jacobean playhouse, what do you expect?!).

It’s become ridiculous trying to fit in more visits, with Christmas unhelpfully arriving in the middle of the run, but by now you can rely on me to do my utmost to make it there! (I do at least have a couple confirmed, and spare slots to add in some more if I wish…) Emma Rice may be making me poor in terms of cash, but who cares when your life is being so enriched?

Romantics Anonymous runs at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until 6 January 2018. Tickets are available online or from the box office, with £10 standing tickets on offer for every performance.

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