Wise Children, a company created and led by Emma Rice, present Romantics Anonymous, streamed from Bristol Old Vic to living rooms everywhere.
Based on the 2010 French-Belgian film Les Émotifs Anonymes, this production is an all-singing, all-dancing delight. It follows the complex relationship of talented chocolatier Angélique (Carly Bawden) and chocolate factory owner Jean-René (Marc Antolin), as well as the paralysing anxieties that plague their relationship.
Very excitingly, this musical was actually performed live! Instead of touring the US, as originally planned, the cast and crew isolated together for two weeks. So, the play is in its original form, meaning touching, dancing and kissing! It was incredibly refreshing to finally see this kind of live performance; it gave me hope for when theatre can return to a new ‘normal’.
At 7pm the virtual ‘doors’ opened, with audience chatter and all. An on screen message instructed people to prepare some chocolate to consume during the play; a lovely, playful touch. As sweet as this was, there was an sour undertone when the cameras showed an empty auditorium. Indeed, the production’s many comedic moments were punctuated with noticeable silence.
There were plenty of nods to the at-home viewers, including addresses to the audience being directed down a camera. My favourite moment of the whole play was the mumbling man from the emotional support group ‘Les Émotifs Anonymes’ slyly shaking a bag of chocolate toward the audience. The act two introduction song from Jean-René’s father (Phillip Cox) saw hints to our current situation; assumingly adapted from it’s original lyrics.
Although sweet and fun, Romantics Anonymous is not without depth. Parents (Sandra Marvin and Philip Cox) are the source of Angélique and Jean-René’s dysfunctions. The support group scenes are as heart-breaking as they are funny, and the declarations of ”je suis émotif” accentuate the constrained lives these people live because of their fears.
The protagonists’ loaded interactions with their mothers and fathers culminate in the breakdown of their relationship. However, I do think this poignancy is undermined somewhat by these performances. Jean-René’s conversations with his father falls slightly into stereotype, lacking nuance and individuality. So much so, I forgot the father was actually a ghost. I found this quite disappointing, as Jean-René is characterised as an endearing original oddity. Angélique’s interaction with her mother, although well performed, is undermined by it’s brevity. Suddenly, we are bombarded with a mother’s disappointment and anger without sufficient understanding of what the history of the relationship is.
Nonetheless, this show is undoubtably enjoyable. Designer Lez Brotherston transformed the small space into a cosy chocolate box, and combined with intricate stage craft – punctuated by Simon Baker’s sound design – the level of intimacy achieved is the mastery of this show.
The beret-adorned chorus deserve special recognition. With their multitude of shapeshifting characters, they play across the stage beautifully as they accompany our dysfunctional protagonists, sometimes even outshining them.
Michael Kooman’s music is light and entertaining, and the whole cast seamlessly transports us to a world of French chocolate. It’s a sweet treat if you fancy some live theatre!
Tickets for Romantics Anonymous are available on the Bristol Old Vic website.
Words by Dulcie Godfrey.
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