Given that Andrew Lloyd Webber’s back catalogue includes musicals about randy trains (Starlight Express) and a feline death cult (Cats), it’s kind of surprising that his weirdest ever show is about the relatively normal subject of love affairs in rural France. But with its skin-crawlingly uncomfortable age-gap romances, Aspects of Love still finds plenty of ways to disconcert an audience lured in by the star appeal of musical theatre legend Michael Ball.
When it premiered in 1989, Ball played the role of smitten young soldier Alex. His big number, “Love Changes Everything”, made a dent in the UK singles chart and became one of his signature songs. Superficially, it makes perfect sense to revive this show now that Ball’s old enough to play another of the show’s pivotal roles: Alex’s rival in love, his rakish uncle George. He’s on wonderful form here, blending spine-tingling moments of virtuosity with the more low-key naturalness this musical’s nimble score demands. But alas, the casting is pretty much the only thing that makes sense about this wild narrative of bohemian bed-hopping.
The romantic chaos begins in Paris: starstruck 18-year-old American Alex (Jamie Bogyo) assails broke young actress Rose (the stellar, achingly vulnerable Laura Pitt-Pulford) with flowers and puppy dog eyes, coaxing her to his uncle’s villa in the Pyrenees. Lloyd Webber’s gorgeous, mostly sung-through score showcases his talents at their most subtle and conversational. The jaunty notes of “Parlez-vous Francais”, playing on the radio in a late-night cafe, blend artfully with these lovers’ more fraught negotiations. But Don Black and Charles Hart’s trite lyrics don’t match the music’s subtlety. Take the show’s pivotal line, “Love changes everything, hands and faces, earth and sky”, an unappetising word salad: by hands, do they mean an awkward lover’s sweaty palms? Does love fertilise the earth so perfect red roses can bloom?