Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, Shakespeare’s Globe, London – until 6 January 2018
“Prenez vos chocolats…et mangez-les”… Like the squares of chocolates handed out for us to magically access automatic translation, there’s a bittersweet note to much of Romantics Anonymous. And it is perhaps predictably that Emma Rice scores one of her biggest hits on Bankside with a musical that couldn’t be more Emma Rice if it tried. As it is, it fits perfectly into the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, shaking up the established order once again as she brings amplification and neon lights along with the huge generosity of spirit of this show, uncompromising to the end in her relationship with the Globe.
Romantics Anonymous was adapted by Rice from the French-Belgian film Les Émotifs Anonymes, and takes a wonderfully Gallic spin on your typical romantic comedy. Jean-René has inherited a chocolate factory, Angélique is a chocolatier par excellence in need of a job, they seem perfectly suited for each other but both are chronically, painfully shy. She faints if she has to speak to people, he has precisely zero confidence and even in the act of finally striking up a relationship together, both working and personal, their awkwardness is a constant threat to their happiness.
I loved it. I really really loved it. There’s an almost indescribable joyous spirit permeating the whole show as whimsy is counterbalanced with worry, humour with heartbreak, as we remain unsure to the end whether this pair will get their happy ending. Dominic Marsh (wonderfully nerdy – loved the ctrl alt delete gag) and Carly Bawden (who works with actual chocolate whilst singing) capture so much of the emotional heart of the piece, aided by a yearning score from US composers Christopher Dimond and Michael Kooman (album plug!) that shimmers in its loveliness.
What really makes this musical fly though is its lightness of spirit. Even in its potentially darkest and saddest moments, the multi-roling ensemble are on hand to deliver a wide range of hilarious supporting characters, joyful dance routines and pointed jokes about manspreading or being strong and stable. And as if there were any doubts about quality, Joanna Riding is one of the members of that company, alongside great turns from the likes of Lauren Samuels and Marc Antolin and an outrageously entertaining Gareth Snook. C’est magnifique.