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She Loves Me - Menier Chocolate Factory

One of those shows that is very silly, and it knows it, She Loves Me is a bit of a let-down in its sheer repetitiveness. Two instances stick out. The first is exit music whenever a customer leaves the perfumery in which most of the show is set, accompanied by a sung invitation to “please call again, do call again”. The second is during Act One Scene Nine, where a waiter drops a tray. It’s not long after that another waiter drops another tray.

Despite protestations from the head waiter (Cory English) it just keeps happening, over and over, until it gets boring. I wondered whether the staff at this café ought to have been supplied with indestructible trolleys with which to carry food and beverages to customers. I realise this makes me sound like a spoilsport in what is really quite a fun musical but it irritated me that much. At least there’s some hilarious breaching of the fourth wall to be enjoyed.

The choreography (Rebecca Howell) doesn’t get much of a chance to properly shine until near the end, in “Twelve Days to Christmas”, where the hustle and bustle of festive shopping is portrayed well, though again a flurry of over-elaborate farewells to customers at the perfumery proved a bit of a test of endurance. I loved the set (Paul Farnsworth), managing to get a quadruple revolve onto the fairly small Menier Chocolate Factory stage, whilst not feeling too squished in.

Stand-out performances from a strong cast came from Callum Howells as Arpad Laszlo, always smiling, always eager, with a boy-next-door smile and likeability that I couldn’t fault – and from Katherine Kingsley as Ilona Ritter, such an engaging stage presence and a powerful singing vocal that probably would have sounded just as clear without amplification.

The lyrics (Sheldon Harnick) are often sharp and witty, and the two leads, Georg Nowack (Mark Umbers) and Amalia Balash (Scarlett Strallen) are clearly having fun on stage – always a good thing to see. The love story is refreshingly unsentimental – this is hardly The Phantom of the Opera – and although it’s an American show, there’s a distinct Britishness about it in its old-fashioned restraint. That, and British accents are retained in a Broadway musical, albeit one set in any event in Budapest: is it to be assumed they are really speaking Hungarian (although actually in English for the benefit of the audience)?

Had it been set in contemporary times, they’d have probably whipped their clothes off in an instant and subjected the audience to a sex scene. Instead, there are letters back and forth, back and forth (yep, that repetitiveness thing again) that eventually result in a meetup in what I call The Café With The Bumbling Waiters. For reasons detailed in the course of the narrative, this ‘date’ goes horribly wrong. Elsewhere, Mr Maraczek (Les Dennis) solicits much sympathy from the audience, partly because it transpires that his wife has been having an affair, and partly in his conduct after having found out about it. Ladislav Sipos (Alastair Brookshaw) was an interesting character, experienced but still insecure, resorting to desperate measures to remain within Maraczek’s employment.

A hearty and enjoyable production.

Four stars

At the Menier Chocolate Factory until 4 March 2017. Nearest station: London Bridge.

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