Review: Romantics Anonymous, Bristol Old Vic
Reader Rating 2 Votes

Romance has a particular ‘look’, physique, voice and even vibe, which ruffled shirts, excessive sweating and an inclination to fainting don’t quite adhere to.  But Emma Rice’s Romantics Anonymous embraces the eccentricities and insecurities of people, revealing how endearing they are and so rejecting the unrealistically idealised and unattractively restrictive mould of desirability. 

Angelique (Carly Bawden) and Jean-Rene (Marc Antolin) are brought together by their mutual passion for chocolate and its beautiful bitterness which evades being categorized with other sweets. 

Their love, although claimed to be at first-sight, certainly couldn’t be called passionate. Instead it is tentative, fragile and yet prevailing despite their multiple attempts to run away from it.  

Although Romantics Anonymous is integrally a love story, it still retains an arc for both characters as individuals not just a pair. Their personal liberations from self-criticism are just as if not more powerfully inclusive than their realisations that they can be desirable to each other. 

However, there is a myriad of characters not just two leads. The ensemble cast flit between various unique personalities, rarely leaving the performance space-although not necessarily the stage-creating an unfaltering energy. Their humorous exaggeration of relatable characteristics is particularly brilliant in les emotifs anonymes meetings, where realism is not just left behind but reduced to a spec in the distance, on the verge of reminiscing clowning. 

Rice lightly mocks in mimicry the tropes of musicals, with the setting signifiers, dancing style, miming and characters’ direct expression of their thoughts. The superficial result of this is theatrical humour, yet I wonder if Rice’s leniency towards traditional musical storytelling was to express the capacity for it to facilitate these atypical characters’ stories or whether her gentle mockery is challenging yet more concepts of upheld traditions. 

Lez Brotherston’s simplistic set and costume design predominantly uses signs to state the setting and props are only used where miming is impractical or insufficient. The monochromatic set has a sense of elegance, while the metal framing still evokes the image of a factory setting. 

The inclination towards narrating extends this sense of simplistic storytelling. Initially, this appears unnecessarily expositional and steals the opportunity for Angelique’s character to be naturally revealed through Bawden’s portrayal.  However, it is applied much more successfully when Jean-Rene is introduced, lending itself towards quirky descriptions rather than narrative guiding.

The live music, composed by Michael Kooman is beautiful and delightfully twee. The mocking imitation of the stereotypical stirring soundscapes of romantic films emerges as much in their creation of soundeffects as it does in the songs. And the vocals of the whole cast are phenomenal, especially Sandra Marvin’s powerful performance as Brigette.  

Romantics Anonymous is very sweet, fun and refreshingly challenging to the stereotypical image of romance. There is minimal moments of laugh out loud humour and it’s neither surprising nor greatly emotive in the narrative, however you will be unknowingly smiling throughout.

Romantics Anonymous is playing Bristol Old Vic until the 1st of February. For more information and tickets see the Bristol Old Vic’s website.