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Love Story - Chichester Festival (Review)

Love Story

Review by David Munro

IF THE Lord (Lloyd Webber) had not already appropriated it, Love Never Dies would be the perfect title for the tender and sensitive musical adaptation of Erich Segal’s Love Story, now playing at the Chichester Festival.

The story concerns a young couple, he is rich and spoilt, she is poor, hardworking and talented; they meet, fall in love and he is disinherited. They get married and she gives up her career and takes a job to support him through Law School. He qualifies and just when their life seems set on an even keel, she is diagnosed with Leukemia and dies within two months.

This is a tale which, in the wrong hands, could be mawkish and unbearable but Stephen Clark has adapted the story into a succession of short scenes which, under Rachel Kavanaugh’s adept direction, follow on cohesively and coherently resulting in a believable and very poignant evening.

Howard Goodall’s songs are integral to the action and they are beautifully performed by the principals and a chorus comprising of the rest of the cast.

Clearly the success or otherwise of the play depends on the two principals, Oliver (Michael Xavier) and Jenny (Emma Williams), both of whom give superb and utterly sincere performances.

Each can handle the dialogue and songs with consummate ease and Emma Williams, as the self-sacrificing Jenny, is more than convincing, both when she is controlling and steering the marriage from possible disaster into success and then when her death sentence is announced and her life ends.

Michael Xavier is the epitome of the rich, spoiled American “preppy” but he injects into the character tremendous feeling and sincerity bringing an almost unbearable reality to their relationship, culminating in the scene where she dies in his arms.

Without two such sincere and convincing performances the play would have degenerated into a sea of mush and self pitying sentiment.

The rest of the cast have little part to play other than Peter Polycarpou, as Jenny’s concerned father, who reluctantly accepts Oliver despite his forebodings for the future.

As I have mentioned, Rachel Kavanaugh moves the plot along with speed and precision; the action takes place on a bare section of stage onto which props such as chairs and tables (and even a working stove) are placed and removed with the minimum disruption to the main action.

Howard Goodall’s score is tuneful and effective and highlights the emotions of the characters without denigrating their strength. It is a score worthy of a second hearing as there are nuances, which although apparent clearly need further investigation.

The show as a whole is not a musical in the grand sense and in my view should be described as a chamber musical; one that is intimate and moving and deserves one’s full appreciation and attention.

I would hope that it would transfer as it is fully worthy of a West End appearance although how it would fare in a climate of rock and dissonance who can say.

I found it a truly worthwhile experience and the two leading performances alone are worth going to see – a genuinely moving show and one I will savour with pleasure in my memory for a long time.

Love Story By Erich Segal.
Book and Lyrics by Stephen Clark
Music by Howard Goodall
Additional Lyrics by Howard Goodall
Directed by Rachel Kavanaugh
Designer – Peter McKintosh
Lighting – Howard Harrison
Sound – Matt McKenzie
Music Director – Stephen Ridley
Musical Staging – Nick Winston

CAST: Claire Carrie; Keiron Crook; Keiron Crook; Rob Edwards; Lillie Flynn; Peter Polycarpou; Jos Slovick; Simeon Truby; Emma Williams; Julia Worsley; Michael Xavier.

Minerva Theatre, Chichester Festival Theatre, Oaklands Park, Chichester, West Sussex, PO19 6AP.
May 29 – June 26, 2010
Evenings 7.30pm/Mat. Weds or Thurs. & Sat. 2.15pm.
Box Office: 01234 781312.