Like Andy Williams singing the famous song, I'm in a quandary: "Where do I begin?" Well, yes, to tell the story of how great a love can be, but also to tell how composer Howard Goodall has clinically drained off the romantic excess of Erich Segal's 1970 movie script and produced a brisk, ever-so-polite chamber oratorio.
The most rousing section of Rachel Kavanaugh's tidy two-hour production, set against designer Peter McKintosh's all-white background, where the musicians are silhouetted on a raised platform, comes in the quotation of Francis Lai's theme tune that Goodall promptly dissipates in his own characteristically skilful arrangement.
It's an interesting experiment in going to the opposite extreme of what Andrew Lloyd Webber usually does: there's no ratcheting up of the emotional temperature. You are left to ponder the mismatch between what the characters are saying – dying, Jenny says, is like falling off a cliff in slow motion – and the anodyne, reined-in manner of expression.
I can't spoil the story, nor can Goodall and his collaborator on book and lyrics, Stephen Clark, and they come right out with Jenny's epitaph in the opening number. Music student and Catholic poor person Jenny Cavilleri (Emma Williams) meets ice-hockey jock and upper-crust law student Oliver Barrett IV (Michael Xavier) in the library.
They tussle over whether playing Bach requires more practice than playing hockey and tumble into bed where Jenny comes out with that deathless, dreaded and unhelpful line: "Love means never having to say you're sorry." After some neat, snappy domestic scenes – the hammer blow: medical update on fertility morphs into death sentence.
Williams and Xavier play with great charm and spirit in a small ensemble with notable actor-singers like Claire Carrie and Rob Edwards as Ollie's parents and Peter Polycarpou as Jenny's blustery Italian dad.
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