‘LOVE AT THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY’ – SHE LOVES ME (THEATRE REVIEW)

IF you are fortunate – or wise – enough to have purchased a ticket for She Loves Me, you are in for a right royal treat. A feel good musical that will leave you wearing a smile stretching to Timbuktu and beyond.

The show, at the marvellous Menier Chocolate Factory – a stone’s throw from London Bridge – continues a rich vein of form for this ‘fringe’ theatre.

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Travesties, the Tom Stoppard play starring Tom Hollander, was a great Autumnal hit and has since transferred to the Apollo where it continues to receive rave reviews (it runs until April 29).

Next up is Terence Rattigan’s Love in Idleness, directed by none other than Trevor Nunn. If it is half as good as last year’s production of The Deep Blue Sea at the National Theatre (starring Helen McCrory) we are in for a treat.

She Loves Me, written in 1963 and set in 1930’s Budapest, is based on the shenanigans that take place among the staff of a bustling parfumerie, bursting with perfumes and creams, designed to make the good women of Budapest feel younger and more attractive.

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The shop is owned by Mr Maraczek (Les Dennis) who may be lucky in business but not in love. His marriage is on the rocks (nothing new there for Les) and although we never see his wife, it soon becomes obvious she is having an affair with one of the staff.

Mr Maraczek has his suspicions. He believes it is shop assistant Georg (the ridiculously  handsome Mark Umbers) who is doing the dirty on him. So begins Mr Maraczek’s campaign to drive Georg out of his shop.

But he is wrong. Georg is forming a relationship by letter (1930’s version of social media) with a woman, Amalia (Scarlett Strallen), whom he has never met. When she then turns up at the parfumerie pleading for a job, the couple are oblivious to the fact that it is them who are having the love letter affair.

More testosterone is thrown on stage by the flakey relationship between shop assistants Steven Kodaly (Dominic Tighe) and Ilona Ritter (Katherine Kingsley).

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It is all wonderful fare with various twists and turns but Katherine Kingsley steals the show. Wearing high heels that thrust her into the stratosphere and a dress that highlights all her curves, she thrills with her every move and word  – whether it is cutting a length of ribbon as Mr Kodaly (a cad and a half) flirts with a customer (suggesting Mr Kodaly may be in for some drastic life-changing surgery if he is not careful) or ranting away in her cockney accent. A Hungarian cockney in 1930’s Budapest? She makes it believable.

The evening is an absolute joy from start to finish. The music and singing are both excellent, a credit to the long standing brilliance of lyricist Sheldon Harnick (still going strong at 92 and a visitor to the show on its Press Night) and composer Jerry Bock who gave birth to She Loves Me 54 years ago.

She Loves Me runs until March 4. It’s sold out but you might strike lucky and get a return. It deserves to do a Travesties so it might transfer to the West End.

I hope it does. In these Brexit-laced days, we all need a bit of cheer to keep our spirits up. She Loves Me delivers in spades and bottles of perfume.

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