×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

London Theater Review: New Musical ‘Romantics Anonymous’

Emma Rice bows out at Shakespeare's Globe with a heart-tugger of a new musical about timid lovers.

Emma Rice is an old-fashioned romantic – no doubt about it. When she brought “Brief Encounter” to Broadway back in 2010, the whole stage seemed to swoon, as lovers were knocked sideways and swept off their feet. With the company Kneehigh, she turned “Tristan and Yseult” into a tale of two people pulled together like planets.

To both stories though, Rice added the opposite: those left behind by love. In “Brief Encounter,” the station staff remained earthbound and unmoved, while “Tristan and Yseult” were watched by a chorus of The Unloved, a flock of bespectacled, anorak-wearing oddballs – trainspotters of the heart.

Rice’s latest project “Romantics Anonymous,” entwines those two elements with soaring success. A musical adaptation of Jean-Pierre Améris’ piquant French-Belgian rom-com “Les Emotifs Anonymes” (2010), the show is a grand romance between the unlikeliest of lovers, two sweethearts wracked by social anxiety. Factory owner Jean-René (Dominic Marsh) sits in his office, plugged into self-help tapes, while Angelique (Carly Bawden), a master chocolatier, joins a support group for the out-of-sorts, Les Emotifs Anonymes.

That phrase isn’t entirely translatable – Romantics Anonymous isn’t quite right. You might call them The Overwhelmed or The Insecure, all cowed by the world. One sits entirely tucked into her clothing: knees in her jumper, hands up her sleeves. Another, a crisscross of knitwear with plastered-up specs, taps away on his laptop avoiding eye contact. A third is a bobble-hatted, mitten-wearing mumbler. “Hello,” each whisper by way of introduction, “Je suis emotif.”

Améris’ story ties two feelgood formulas together – timid lovers coming together and shy sorts emerging from their shells. Angelique’s too shy to take credit for her talent, while Jean-René’s anxious inactivity is ruining his business. In finding each other, bit by bit, they prove the solutions to both of their problems.

The story’s so surefire, it’s very nearly too much, so sugarly it almost tips into sickly sweet. But with a book and direction by Rice, the ever-playful, tongue-in-cheek style just about sets. As Bawden and Marsh go through a string of near-misses, you find yourself urging the hapless lovers together. As they get closer, we pretty much melt. This is a real heartburst of a show.

As ever, Rice counterbalances that with clowning. A chorus of Bretagne-striped beret wearers with “theek Franche ac-cents,” playing  Les Emotifs and factory floor workers alike, surround the pair, propping up the set pieces of Michael Kooman and Christopher Dimond’s nimble, cabaret-style score. Musically, their piano and clarinet orchestrations (with glockenspiels for good measure) catch the continental tone of Améris’ original, combining lush romance with light whimsy, as does Lez Brotherston’s  design of candyish costumes and bright neon signs.

Tucked inside all this, there’s a survey of speech impediments. A study of shyness, Romantics Anonymous examines the inability to speak up. Bawden clamps her lips shut as Angelique, while Marsh’s Jean-Rene is permanently tongue-tied. She brings cue cards to their first date, only for him to flee to the toilet to change through a stash of sweat-sodden shirts.

The theme winds its way through Rice’s book, from the ineffable pleasure of chocolate – a taste that defies description – to the support groups that defeat fears by voicing them out loud. Not for nothing does Gareth Snook’s mumbler steal scene after scene. Grief, too, lurks in the background: a private, inexpressible pain that links the two leads.

This is what makes Améris’ film into a musical. Song steps in when speech falls short. Music does what words cannot. Kooman score and Dimond’s lyrics soar to emotional heights, with Joanna Riding’s floor manager belting out her boss’s secret: “He’s in love! He’s in love!” A string of characterful cameos from Marc Antolin and Natasha Jayetileke offset the flush of feeling, but there’s no denying that this one’s a real treat.

London Theater Review: Emma Rice’s “Romantics Anonymous”
Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, London; 320 seats; £62 ($81) top. Opened, reviewed, Sept. 27, 2017. Running time: 2 HOURS, 20 MIN.

Production
A Radio Mouse Entertainment production of a musical in two acts with book by Emma Rice, music by Michael Kooman and lyrics by Christopher Dimond and based on a film by Jean-Pierre Améris and Philippe Blasband.

Creative
Directed by Emma Rice, Set design, Lez Brotherston; musical supervision, Nigel Lilley; choreographer, Etta Murfitt; orchestrator, Simon Hale; lighing, Malcolm Rippeth; sound, Simon Baker.

Cast
Marc Antolin, Carly Bawden, Philip Cox, Joe Evans, Natasha Jayetileke, Dominic Marsh, Joanna Riding, Lauren Samuels, Gareth Snook.

London Theater Review: New Musical 'Romantics Anonymous'

More Legit

  • The Play That Goes Wrong review

    BBC Orders Comedy Series Based on ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’

    The BBC has greenlit “The Goes Wrong Show,” a new series based on Mischief Theatre’s popular “The Play That Goes Wrong” stage production about a troupe that puts on disastrous plays. The stage show has transferred from London’s West End to Broadway for a J.J. Abrams-produced version described by Variety as “a broad, silly and [...]

  • By the Way Meet Vera Stark

    Off Broadway Review: 'By the Way, Meet Vera Stark' by Lynn Nottage

    After writing two harrowing Pulitzer Prize-winning plays, “Sweat” and “Ruined,” Lynn Nottage is entitled to have a little fun. But while this revival of her new play, “By the Way, Meet Vera Stark,” walks and talks like a screwball comedy, it has a real brain in its head. Before we get too serious, let’s meet [...]

  • Merrily We Roll AlongRoundabout Theatre CompanyMERRILY

    Off Broadway Review: 'Merrily We Roll Along'

    Like the optimistic youths at the end — or is it the beginning? — of “Merrily We Roll Along,” creatives keep going back to this problematic Stephen Sondheim-George Furth musical, re-imagining the show in the hope that the end results will be different this time around. They’re not. But disappointments are often off-set by new [...]

  • My Fair Lady Laura Benanti

    Listen: Laura Benanti on 'My Fair Lady' and the Secret to Her Melania Trump Impersonation

    Laura Benanti is now playing her dream role on Broadway. At the same time, the Tony winner (“Gypsy”) is also playing her toughest part ever. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “It’s the most demanding part I think I’ll probably play,” said Benanti, now appearing as Eliza Doolittle in Lincoln Center Theater’s well-received revival of [...]

  • Hamilton West End Production.

    'Hamilton' Panic Over Mistaken Reports of Gunfire Injures Three in San Francisco

    Three people were injured after mistaken reports of an active shooter at a San Francisco production of “Hamilton” caused attendees to flee the theater. CNN reported that a woman experienced a medical emergency — later determined to be a heart attack — during a scene in Lin-Manuel Miranda’s play wherein Founding Father Alexander Hamilton is shot on [...]

  • The American Clock review

    London Theater Review: 'The American Clock'

    Time is money. Money is time. Both come unstuck in “The American Clock.” Arthur Miller’s kaleidoscopic account of the Great Depression, part autobiography, part social history, crawls through the decade after the Wall Street crash, dishing up snapshots of daily life. In the Old Vic’s classy revival, director Rachel Chavkin (“Hadestown”) tunes into the play’s [...]

  • Jake Gyllenhaal

    Off Broadway Review: Jake Gyllenhaal in 'Sea Wall/A Life'

    Comfy? Okay, let’s talk Death: sudden death, painful death, lingering death, accidental death, and whatever other kinds of death happen to come into the receptive minds of playwrights Simon Stephens (“Sea Wall”) and Nick Payne (“A Life”). The writing in these separate monologues — playing together on a double bill at the Public Theater — [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content