As you enter the small, intimate space of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, you are greeted by enthusiastic actors dressed in black-and-white striped shirts and red neckerchiefs, immediately transporting you to France. You are presented with a piece of chocolate to be saved for the magical moment the play begins. Unless you’re me, who, unable to speak French, ate the chocolate and was forced to shamefully take another chocolate.
The story is simple enough: a romantic comedy about two people who like chocolate. The twist? They both suffer from crippling social anxiety. As Jean-René’s Chocolate Factory faces bankruptcy, and Angélique searches desperately for a new job, the two are forced into a situation where they must finally face their greatest fear: people. It is a comical yet relatable depiction of life with social anxiety. Jean-René, played by Dominic Marsh, struggles to speak to his staff, and comes across as a curt asshole for the most part, but only because he is unable to find the words to say what he means. Angélique, played by Carly Bawden, on the other hand, has a crippling fear of speaking in front of strangers. As the show progresses, they both slowly overcome their anxiety, and the audience starts to feel the frustration as they keep falling back into their vices. It’s not a show about suddenly ‘getting better’, but learning to accept your anxiety, coming to terms with it, and coping with it.
Emma Rice did amazingly well in transposing the comedy and heart of the story to the stage. The pacing of the first act is brilliant and incredibly engaging, without a boring moment as it takes you through the rise and fall of each character. The music adds to the intense waves of emotion, lifting you up or dropping you down along the rollercoaster of anxiety. The second act, whilst equally hilarious, dragged on a bit longer than necessary. Though there is a car scene that should not be missed for the world. Overall, the show is amazing and entertaining, never failing for a moment to keep you occupied with the crazy antics on the stage.
just enough Parisian flair to remind you of the setting, whilst remaining entertaining and funny
Speaking of the stage, the designer Lez Brotherston transformed the typically candlelit theatre into a brightly illuminated place of excitement and delight. Above the backdrop hangs a huge assortment of neon signs that turn on at perfectly timed moments when mentioned in the play. It helps to turn the relatively small space into a multi purpose area, with the various lighted signs indicating the location at any given time, from ‘Hotel’ to ‘Lyon’ to ‘Les Emotifs Anonymes’. The use of electronic lighting turned the ‘traditional’ space into something fresh and contemporary, definitely proving how technology and theatre can come together into a beautiful symphony.
The music was wonderfully atmospheric throughout the entire show. At points it highlights the intense anxiety of the main characters, and at others shows the hopeful nature of the show itself. It has just enough Parisian flair to remind you of the setting, whilst remaining entertaining and funny. Romantics Anonymous proves that you can have classy tunes with funny lyrics. Though, at points, the comedy overshadowed the singing, for the most part it did not detract from the enjoyment but added to the euphoria.
The entire cast was incredibly talented, both at singing and delivering witty punchlines that sent the audience reeling with laughter. It takes an immense group effort to create hilarious jokes all sung in harmonised unison. A special shoutout goes to Joanna Riding and Natasha Jayetileke, who while part of the multi-role ensemble still shone as stars in their own right.
Romantics Anonymous is definitely a show not to be missed this holiday season. A delectable treat for all musical theatre fans, bittersweet but delicious.
Romantics Anonymous is playing at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe until the 6th January 2018, more information and tickets here.
Image: Steve Tanner