Romantics Anonymous – Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe

I keep telling people, myself included, that I’m not a fan of musicals, I prefer a good ole fashioned play…and then I list some notable exceptions; The King & I, Cats, Showboat, Phantom of the Opera, Carousel, The Rocky Horror Show! I then realise that I do like musicals, I just don’t like the modern trend of taking some famous songs and then bunging them on stage with a thinly veiled storyline tying them all together. So when I was asked if I wanted a ticket to see Romantics Anonymous, I was a bit, well, meh! I didn’t know much about it, but I still said yes to a ticket!

Press reports show the public has had a love hate relationship with Emma Rice since she was appointed Artistic Director at Shakespeare’s Globe. I’ve seen a few plays at the Sam Wanamaker whilst she has been in situ, and I have enjoyed them all, but reports on how some of Shakespeare’s most loved plays have been toyed with at The Globe have left me relieved that I’ve not borne witness to them. I found it interesting that she had chosen a musical as her final production for Shakespeare’s Globe, but then I realised it would be the first musical to be presented in the Playhouse; and that it is rather in keeping with a lady who has shook up the establishment at The Globe. It’s a loud and proud goodbye with head held high; she is not shying away into the night.

As I took my seat, a lady dressed like a French mime artist was handing out chocolates. Do not eat in now, she said to me in French. Eat it when you’re told to in the play. “C'est magique!” I don’t know about magic, but my French is appalling, so it was amazing I could grasp what she was saying. I settled down for the start of the play…everyone on stage was speaking French. Oh dear Lord I thought, if I have to concentrate this hard for the entire play my head will explode. My prayers were answered, we were told to eat our chocolates (eating chocolate can be understood in any language) and by the power of chocolately magic I could suddenly understand everyone…it was as if they were suddenly speaking in my native tongue!!

Romantics Anonymous is an adaptation of the movie Les Émotifs Anonymes. It is the tale of Angélique, a woman overwhelmed by her emotions, who seeks respite by making chocolates with love, care and patience. The making of chocolate is her form of therapy, it is a comfort for her to make chocolate, as it is a comfort for most of us to eat it! Angélique is quite content secretly making chocolates until her boss dies and she has to face the real world. In order to seek help from her crippling shyness she joins a support group Les Émotifs Anonymes. Jean-René runs a chocolate factory, but it is falling apart at the seams. He spends his days burying his head in the sand listening to self-help tapes and speaking to the ghost of his dead father. But don’t be misled, as we dip in and out of the melancholy affairs of their hearts, and they battle with their feelings, Michael Kooman’s music combined with Christopher Dimond’s often cheeky lyrics will have you doubled up in laughter. “One rule we must enforce, don’t think about sexual intercourse!”

Limerence (also infatuated love) is a state of mind which results from a romantic attraction to another person and typically includes obsessive thoughts and fantasies and a desire to form or maintain a relationship with the object of love and have one's feelings reciprocated.

Shyness between would be lovers is a story as old as time, and shared by people across the globe. In the mid 1960’s a psychology professor, Dorothy Tennov, interviewed a number of people afflicted by overwhelming shyness when it came to affairs of the heart. She coined a new word, limerence, which she said produced “sometimes incapacitating but always unsettling shyness.” Symptom’s included heart palpitations, stammering, sweating and fainting, and our shrinking violets show on stage how debilitating shyness can be. When our hero and heroine finally go on a dinner date we’re a mixture of emotions watching them; Angélique (Carly Bawden) has crib cards with varying topics of conversation, whilst Jean-René (Dominic Marsh) has come prepared with a number of garish shirts to change into as each one gets soaked with his nervous sweat! We cringe and laugh with them as they try to do their best in what for them is a stultifying experience.

Whilst the whole of the cast is brilliant, a stand out performance is given by the multitasking Joanna Riding (Stella, Holby City, Heartbeat) she starts off playing an officious overseer in the factory, (looking as though she belonged on the cobbled streets of Corrie) but then steals the show playing Angélique’s mother, complete with black bra and plenty of leopard print as she belts out words of advice to poor Angélique. But it’s when she takes to the wheel for the funniest car chase you’re ever likely to see staged that will leave you in stitches!

In an often depressing world, Romantics Anonymous lifts the lid on the encroaching gloom and transports the audience into a world of sweet, joyfulness. Emma Rice should be justifiably proud of her swansong; she is leaving the Globe on a theatrical high...rather like Jean-René and Angélique dancing on air in an impressive finale.

Romantics Anonymous is playing at The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse until 6th January 2018.