This was my first visit to Above The Stag’s latest premises, and I think it’s the slickest building they’ve inhabited to date. It’s still under railway arches with regular distracting rumbles from the trains, but there’s a large bar area to accommodate waiting audiences, and the main theatre (there’s also a studio space now) is well-designed with a nice stage;seating ratio. Having been a patron of the venue since it actually was above The Stag pub in Victoria, I’m always glad to see it continuing.
Romance Romance consists of two relationship musicals played either side of the interval, with a shared cast of four. The first is a European period piece in which two well-to-do gents pose as respectively a penniless poet (Blair Robertson) and a brassic butcher (Jordan Lee Davies). The pair meet and fall instantly in love despite the apparent disparity in their means.
The second show is a contemporary tale of two couples sharing a holiday home in New York’s desirable Hamptons district, during which the “other halves” (Ryan Anderson and Alex Lodge) who have known each other platonically forever, find themselves gravitating towards an affair.
Of the two scenarios, the second is much more relatable, unless posh people pretending to be poor does it for you. By contrast, who hasn’t considered the romantic flip-side of a close friendship? The “will they/won’t they?” (or “should/shouldn’t they?”) premise is an interesting one, and I felt fairly invested in whether these best friends would take their relationship further.
The cast are all clearly accomplished, and the three-piece band are fine musicians. The lighting and set designs are sophisticated and very well realised – this is certainly a good-looking production.
The main drawback of Romance Romance is the poor quality of the songs, which are a very samey collection with not much life in them. While Barry Harman’s lyrics are serviceable, Keith Herrimann’s tunes are immediately forgettable despite the enthusiasm with which they’re performed. The choreography is much more dynamic, particularly during an energetic polka in the first piece which sees the whole cast whirling around the space to great effect. But you can’t hum dance moves – musicals need melodies, and less than 24 hours later I can’t recall a single one.
The loyal Above The Stag audience, however, evidently thought they were witnessing the best thing since Hamilton. Their cheers and whoops were even loud enough to drown out the relentless “ker-chunk, ker-chunk, ker-chunk” as the trains rumbled on overhead.
Book/lyrics: Barry Harman
Music: Keith Herrmann
Director: Steven Dexter
Musical director: Aaron Clingham
Producer: Peter Bull for Above The Stag Theatre
Box Office: 020 3488 2815
Booking Link: https://abovethestag.ticketsolve.com/shows/873602245/events/128927901
Playing until: 6th April 2019