Certain demons down at Bad Place headquarters are waiting for the creators of “Aspects of Love” – Andrew Lloyd Webber, Charles Hart, and Don Black – to join them in their circus of torture, and have been ever since the show was written in 1989 (based on a novella by David Garnett). They will move into the neighborhood where Jared from Subway is heading, along with the guy who created Girls Gone Wild. They’ll all fit together nicely. And into their little torture neighborhood, we will add whoever though it was a good idea to revive this monstrosity of a show at the Southwark Playhouse this season. A rare miss from a theatre whose work we usually adore, “Aspects of Love” is an affront to decent humans. Sure, we are realizing with each passing day that there are fewer and fewer decent humans among us in this brave new world of ours, but that doesn’t excuse this portrayal of domestic abuse, misogyny, incest and more as normal, or worse, as anything remotely resembling love.
Let’s get into it, shall we? “Aspects of Love” is about a boy named Alex living in France who is obsessed with a local actress. Alex is 17 years old, so a minor, if they count things like that in France. He goes to the actress, Rose, after a show one night and is like, hot damn I love you, even though I don’t know you and this is the first time we’ve ever spoken, that’s love. Rose’s show is cancelled and she’s broke, so Alex says she can come stay with him in his uncle’s villa for a few weeks. Rose decides that spending a few weeks having an affair with a minor is a good solution to a problem that could also be solved ANY OTHER WAY. Off Rose and the child Alex go to the uncle’s villa, happy in their disgusting little bubble of impropriety until the uncle finds out and goes to disrupt their fun. The uncle, George, finds them one evening when Rose is wearing George’s dead wife’s gown. Naturally, this upsets him, but not because it’s a flagrant overstep on the part of a guest. No, it’s because he is attracted to Rose, who looks a lot like his dead wife in this gown, and he apologizes to her for his being upset instead of making her apologize to him for wearing the damn dress and at THIS point I was ready to scream at everyone for being wrong and dumb so you can imagine how I felt when shit really hit the fan. Rose decides to leave Alex after a week or so and go back to the stage. They say that they love each other a few times and you are like a) you don’t even know each other and b) so gross.
Two years later, Alex has joined the army so he has a gun, important plot point. He goes to visit his uncle George and lo and behold, guess who is at his apartment? ROSE, who is now George’s mistress. Alex is so upset and scolds Rose for sleeping with his uncle just for his money, but Rose says she really loves George. She ALSO says that she really loved Alex two years ago and so they have sex again in George’s apartment. The next day, Rose tells Alex he has to go before George returns, so Alex THREATENS TO SHOOT HER, because that’s what real love is. How dare you not love me back when I love you so much, Alex says, I love you so much that I’d rather kill you than see you be happy with someone else! SURE GUYS. Rose is like dude stop it and she throws a candlestick at him, which makes him fire the gun “accidentally” but not really an accident because you’re forking POINTING A LOADED GUN AT HER and threatening to shoot her so like not really an UNFORESEEN CONSEQUENCE YOU LITTLE SHIT, and Rose is shot in the arm and faints. And then George arrives and instead of taking Rose to a hospital or something, he and Alex sing about how much they love her and how they think the other one is the best man for her AS SHE IS PASSED OUT. George is literally singing to Alex that maybe he is the right man for Rose because he clearly loves her so much and has such strong passion that it made him shoot her. I CANNOT.
George goes to see his other mistress, Giulietta, and it looks like Rose and Alex will stay together even though he just shot her but she soon orders him to leave so she can go race after George. Rose and Giulietta meet, and they’re like ‘oh you’re not as bad as I expected you to be, let’s be friends/lovers’ and then Rose and George get married with Giulietta as the witness and they form this gross little threesome and George is skeevily elated and that’s Act 1.
I didn’t think Act II could be worse, but I was mistaken. In Act II, the married couple George and Rose have a daughter, Jenny, who has a crush on Alex, HER COUSIN. When Jenny is 14 and Alex is 34, Alex is visiting the villa and Jenny puts on the gown that Rose first put on, the dead wife’s gown. George, instead of being like ‘it’s forking weird that my daughter is dressing up like my dead wife and I’m super attracted to women who wear this gown’, decides the right thing to do is dance with Jenny in a gross manner. When alone, Jenny and Alex dance in a very very inappropriate manner. Jenny tells Alex that she loves him and they kiss. Again, 14, and 34. AND COUSINS.
Later, Alex is putting Jenny to bed one evening and Jenny tells him how much she loves him. Alex sings to himself about all his complicated feelings (he is attracted to his child cousin; not complicated, go away from her) and George overhears and assumes they’ve been having sex and he HAS A HEART ATTACK AND DIES.
At George’s wake, Alex and Giulietta meet and they have sex. Then Alex tells Jenny that their relationship can’t continue, and then he tries to leave but Rose begs him not to leave because she loves him too, and then the whole building explodes from the sheer unbelievability of how fucked up this show is and how they are treating domestic abuse, incest, and pedophilia as acceptable kinds of love.
I know what you’re thinking – all of this must be put forth as satire or criticism of these people and what they think love is, right? Like the art of it must be that they are presenting this as super fucked up and not love at all, RIGHT? Sadly, no. There would be merit in presenting this story with a commentary on how it’s wrong or bad or literally ANY kind of commentary, but this is purely a celebration of this super fuckeduppery as ‘love’.
If you would like to know how the show is aside from the plot, because the entire story is something you can definitely ignore to focus on what, the melodies? then sure let’s talk about that. It is garbage. True, it has created a standard in musical theatre, the opening song “Love Changes Everything”, and it is indeed a catchy, hummable tune that is inoffensive and extraordinarily ordinary. So that’s say five points in their favor. But an easy way to lose those points is, instead of writing other decent melodies and improving the rest of the score, simply repeating “Love Changes Everything” ad infinitum in seemingly endless reprises. If we say minus 1 point for every reprise or repetition of the main LCE theme, they end the show with a total of negative eleventy billion points. And the rest of the score is cringeworthy. I honestly have never cringed so much at a score. It doesn’t help that virtually all of it is sung-through, with what should be dialogue in book scenes replaced with opera-style recitative. It is very hard to make that stylistic choice work in musicals. It does not work here. The melodies chosen for these scenes are the equivalent of when Buddy the Elf in ‘Elf’ tries to explain to Zooey Deschanel that singing is just like talking but you move your voice up and down and then to demonstrate he just sing-shouts “I’M SINGING! I’M IN A STORE AND I’M SIIIINGIIIING” to no real tune, just random tones. That’s what this score is. And the lyrics, good god. When the uncle finds out that his (minor) nephew is affairing it up at his country house with an actress, he sing-shouts “How handy! My bed, my brandy!” I literally HEARD the sound my husband’s face made as he tried to contain his shudder of abhorrence. It hurts in my tumnus to think about that line and the hundreds like it.
I honestly don’t believe that someone okayed this revival of this production like it’s a classic that doesn’t need modern social commentary or new direction to show that none of this is okay. It is clear that those involved don’t see any problem with these storylines and are okay with saying that ‘that’s love.’ And none of the (old men) reviewing this for the big publications seem to find any problem with it because men are disgusting. I can’t believe this is a real show. Also it’s 2 hours and 40 minutes, which is just adding insult to injury. Unless this show was redone as a primer on What Not to Do in the #MeToo Era, it needs to be put away for good. Everyone involved should be ashamed of themselves.