‘And the world is soon erased, lost in pure delight’ – Romantics Anonymous Live Stream Review

One of the most amazing things about theatre is that it continues to evolve, grow and innovate even when the world is working against it. With theatres up and down the country still unable to open their doors, the online universe has quickly become a safe place of sorts, somewhere where theatre and live performance can continue to be shared and loved by the masses. Over the past few nights Wise Children’s production of Romantics Anonymous has been being performed live, in full, on the stage at the Bristol Old Vic and streamed into the homes of theatre lovers all over the world in a virtual tour supporting many regional theatres.

With the cast living in a support bubble and getting regular testing, you can imagine that social distancing is a thing of the past during the show which sees the characters mingling side by side, holding hands, dancing and even kissing, it all feels almost normal if it wasn’t for the knowledge that the auditorium stands almost completely empty.

Romantics Anonymous tells the story of two lost little souls, Angelique (Carly Bawden) and Jean Rene (Marc Antolin), both painfully shy and reserved, struggling to cope of their overbearing emotions, but brought together by a shared loved of chocolate and all that it can do. With members of her support group (les emotifs anonymous) helping her along the way, and workers of his late father’s chocolate factory pushing him in the right direction, Angelique and Jean Rene must learn to step out of their comfort zone.

As Angelique and Jean Rene, Bawden and Antolin shine. Both characters are awkward, quirky uncomfortable in their own skin and unsure of where they fit into the world outside of the safety of their own comfort zones. With Angelique desperately trying to take the advice of the late Monsieur Mercier and find her wings, and Jean-Rene relying on self help tapes to tell him what to do, it’s simply enchanting to watch them both find their way and realise that it’s okay to feel emotional. Whilst Angelique try to fly in her quick hurried movements around the stage, Jean Rene is his father’s son, walking the straight and narrow in a odd almost robotic style, as if controlled by the robotic voice of his self help tapes. Both characters are instantly lovable and you find yourself willing them on and hoping for the very best for them. You want to see them succeed, you want to see them give in to the romance between them and ultimately you want to see them get a happy ending.

The ensemble play multiple parts throughout, from chocolate factory workers, to waiters to members of the support group, and each character has their own story and is well developed in their own right. Harry Hepple is a delight, buzzing around the factory with glee as worker Ludo and awkwardly bumbling through the support meetings as Remi, whilst Gareth Snook proves that he has a natural flair for comedy as Mercier, Marini and the mumbler, and Phillip Cook plays Jean Rene’s father, Pierre and the hotel receptionist with amazing stage presence and delights with an improvised in places interval song. Sandra Marvin, Me’sha Bryan and Laura Jane Matthewson also impress in their multiple roles. Throughout the performance, this ensemble alongside Omari Douglas endlessly fizz with energy in a chorus that oozes with old school style. They are narrators of the story, keeping the action rolling onwards at a lovely pace whilst regularly breaking the forth wall.

The show plays on cliche at times, with the ensemble stereotypically dressed in stripes with neck ties and beret’s whilst walking the French streets, waiters in a fancy restaurant raving about being posh and proper and an over the top chef parading around the stage like he is the best of the best. But it all works, all fits in with the feel of the show with its quirky old school feel with its simplistic set that celebrates the power of the imagination. Timing is on point throughout with movement of doors opening and closing being perfect and lighting (by Malcolm Rippeth) providing wonderful moments of beauty.

The music is both beautiful and clever, with many stand out lines that I could pick out and celebrate. Bridgitte, Angelique’s mother (Marvin) sings a powerful number of worry and dread for her painfully shy daughter, worried that if she continues to allow Angelique to run away, she will one day simply disappear whilst Jean Rene takes the advice of his late father in his thoughts that ‘life is best lived safe on the ground’. A song performed by the support group Angelique attends also makes a dimly nod to current situations with characters trying to explain an overbearing fear of germs and an obsessive use of hand sanitiser.

From start to end Romantics Anonymous is a delight, as delicious as the chocolate we are encouraged to enjoy throughout the performance. The characters are lovable, relatable and joyful to watch. You want to see them succeed and achieve a happy ending, and the joy that comes with every moment is exactly what we need in the world right now. This quirky charming musical is a sweet treat to be embraced and enjoyed, with every little taste leaving you wanting more. Every drop of action and music is sweet and smooth, like chocolate that melts upon the tongue, Romantics Anonymous melts the heart.

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