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Production

Aspects of Love

Company

New Voice Company

Reviewer

Ng Yi-Sheng

Date

04/05/2006

Time

8.00pm

Place

Drama Centre

Rating

**

Who's Screwing Who?: The Musical

Oh boy, I sure loved this show. As a farce. I laughed and hooted when the tragic male lead drew his revolver and shot his beloved heroine.

This isn't completely the fault of New Voice Company. In Aspects of Love, Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber has created a story that's difficult for anyone to take seriously. It's a musical about decadent early 20th century European aristocrats and chanteuses sleeping with each other in every possible combination, then feeling bad about it later. As its scenes flip from decade to decade, you can't even stay in the same era long enough to start feeling sexy.

The famous ballad and motif of the musical, Love Changes Everything, comes at the beginning. And it's a lovely song, perfect in its simplicity and testimony to the power of love. But there's a reason we tend to hear of that song alone: it's immediately betrayed by the discordant recitative that follows in the scenes afterward, and few of the show's other songs even approach its memorability.

It's also a sad fact that this song served as a prelude to the inadequacy of the cast and direction. Our hero Alex, played by Jake Macapagal, was obviously strained as he reached the higher notes in the closing verses. Rose Vibert, played by leading lady Monique Wilson, just didn't have the stage presence to distinguish her from the chorus. There was a general problem of low energy acting throughout the cast - and don't give me the excuse that it was a weekday performance to a half-filled auditorium; if you don't give your best every day, then you're cheating the audience.

I'm sympathetic to the difficulties of a Manila company doing performance in Singapore. New Voice Company apparently did a rather good job of The Vagina Monologues here not too long ago. But if you're doing a musical, you've got to be aware that standards are pretty damn high here - our first encounters were with big West End productions from London and Australia. It's consequently pretty tough for the company to win us over without elaborate sets, sparkly costumes, massive synchronised dance or an orchestra - just a plinky-plonk piano that sounded awful on the sound system (though that may be due to technical difficulties on our side). It's got the unfortunate effect of making Aspects resemble a JC musical.

In her capacity as director, Wilson further fails to adapt the intimate effects of a black box musical to a proscenium stage. The characters appear indistinct and unbelievable in their acts of passion - and believe me, Webber is demanding a lot of a cast when he's drawing up characters like spoilt 17 year-old nobleman Alex and his super-rich old uncle George who sleeps and drinks with everyone and anything in sight. Aside from the opener, the best song of this first act was the witty She'd Be Far Better Off With You, invigorated by its clever banter rather than any deep emotional acting.

I'm probably being too harsh on this show, which really had a fraction over two stars' worth of entertainment value. After all, it did stagger to life by the end of act one, with the big lesbian kiss between Giulietta Trapani and Rose, who cleanly avoid the traditional dynamic of warring mistresses by forming a merriest ménage à trois with the ageing George. With the mood of polyamory rather than romantic idealism in place, it becomes easier in act two to accept the follies of the characters, whose relationships are less accurately described as love triangles than as cat's cradles. Actors are more warmed up and the locations of scenes vary less, creating a less disruptive dramatic sequence to tell of events over the next few decades. Jenny Jamora should also be congratulated for delivering the best song of this act, a truly spirited and passionate performance of Hand Me the Wine and the Dice.

Nonetheless, something's been irrevocably lost in terms of empathy - when Alex starts getting hot for his 15 year-old cousin, the daughter of his uncle and his former love Rose, my first thought was, "How screwed up can this get?" but Alex's infatuation was followed by a contemplative meditation on the place of incest and pedophilia in a lexicon of love. One might be wowed at Sir Andrew for daring to raise such questions in a West End show. Privately, I think it just makes the title of the musical more inaccurate. Aspects of Love? Aspects of Poorly Governed and Sublimated Hormones, more like. Or, as stated above, Who's Screwing Who?* It's also conveniently illustrative of my question of whether New Voice Theatre has wronged Webber or Webber has wronged New Voice.

But one thing becomes clear when you look at the price tags on these tickets. $78 to $98 for weekday shows???? $83 to $103 for weekends???? With these dodgy, uneven standards of theatre, the guys getting screwed the most are the audience.

*Ng Yi-Sheng is aware that grammatically, the title of this article should be Who's Screwing Whom. He is also aware that he sounds too much like a prat already.


"Oh boy, I sure loved this show. As a farce. I laughed and hooted when the tragic male lead shot his beloved heroine."

Credits

Music: Andrew Lloyd Webber

Lyrics: Don Black & Charles Hart

Book: David Garnett

Director: Monique Wilson

Cast: Monique Wilson, Jake Macapagal, Leo Rialp, Jenny Jamora, Nikki Ventosa, Rito Asilo, Julia Abueva, Nelson Caruncho, Lily Chu, Mika Margolles, Amiel Mendoza, Dandy Ramos, Gina Samson, Rona Lou San Pedro, Gabbi Buencamino and Topper Fabregas.

Previous Productions by The New Voice Company
The Vagina Monologues

The Vagina Monologues

More Reviews by Ng Yi-Sheng

Ratings out of 5, based on Practitioner's Vision / Reviewer's Response: ***** = Transcendent / Rapturous;
**** = Crystal / Appreciative; *** = Transmitted / Thoughtful; ** = Vague / Unsatisfied; * = Uncommunicated / Mystified.