Love is in peril twice over on the London stage this week. You can see it restored to its pedestal, or trampled into the gutter. For the believers, One Touch of Venus is a joyous celebration of passion and domesticity. Written in 1944, it is Kurt Weill's only musical comedy, and features the fruity rhymes of Ogden Nash and the wit of SJ Perelman. The Royal Opera House dusted it off for its Lost Musicals series, and now the King's Head's artistic director, Dan Crawford, has taken the hint and given us a new production that positively aches to break out of its cabaret setting.
The plot turns on a statue of Venus, acquired by lovelorn millionaire Whitelaw Savory. The goddess comes to life when lowly barber Rodney Hatch tries out his recently purchased wedding ring on a divine finger. Venus, like Titania, falls for the first thing she sees, which makes life tricky for Rodney, especially as his fiancée is expecting the ring any day now. The resulting songs, as you might expect, are a hoot ("As a dachshund abhors/Revolving doors/ That's how much I love you" gives a flavour). But it's not just comedy showstoppers. Weill and Nash also treat us to pair of superb love songs: "Speak Low" and "I'm a Stranger Here Myself".
Kim Medcalf is a little reserved as Venus (a part written for Marlene Dietrich), and although she does eventually work up the necessary sass, this deity would have been eaten alive by her rival. Gina Murray as the future Mrs Hatch steals every scene she's in. Peter Land is a genial Savory, Michael Gyngell a suitably bewildered Hatch, and Mark White provides a couple of hilarious cameos. Timothy Childs' production is at times strident, and a little rudimentary, but really, in a venue of this size, it is everything you could possibly ask for – for now. Our next demand should be a full-scale revival on a bigger stage.
For the cynics, and the recently dumped, Maggie Nevill's mildly lewd comedy The Shagaround might raise a bitter smile. It has five women and a man celebrating New Year's Eve in the ladies' loos of the Green Man pub. A pretty terrible venue at the best of times, it's worse still for Matt, the love rat of the title, who spends most of the play barricaded inside one of the cubicles. He's there until he pays back the £50 he owes his ex, the righteously furious G, but then the women decide that they can't let him out, because he's "become symbolic".
This feisty display of girl power might sound like the perfect recipe for the thinking person's hen night, but it's not just men who'll be squirming in their seats. As the evening descends into drunkenness, the women's solidarity starts to break down. After all, as one of them points out, "Who'd be in here now if there was anyone worth shagging outside?"
Nevill's script carries enough laughs, but suffers from a few wobbles in tone. And while the cast members, under Patrick Sandford, are energetic (none more so than Toyah Willcox), they never gel as an ensemble. You'll mostly be watching Diane Parish as G, Luisa Bradshaw-White as the conciliatory Lisa, and Elizabeth Berrington as Sal. Sal is the only one of them who really believes in love, and is therefore the most terminally depressed. In one memorable scene, she sits in a doorless cubicle, with her knickers round her ankles, trying and failing to pee because of the man on the other side of the partition. As a vision of despair, it is far more affecting than the play's overwrought finale. The touch of Venus has certainly lost its power here.
Kate Bassett returns next week
'The Shagaround': Soho, W1 (020 7478 0100) to 18 Aug; 'One Touch of Venus': King's Head, N1 (020 7226 1916) to 2 SeptReuse content