By Tom Penman
In her director’s note Isobel Jacob says that I Love You Because is “the cheesiest, most ‘musical theatre show’ you ever did see”. But she then promptly asks “isn’t that what gives it its charm?”. I am pleased to say I agree with this entirely. There are no better words to describe the performance.
The question is, where to begin? There is a great deal to praise in I Love You Because. Story-wise, it is very obviously a typical boy-meets-girl story (based, as it is, on Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice), and as a result, it has a lot of the whimsy and romantic flair that you would expect from such a piece. It has a predictable plot and predictable characters. But, as Jacob herself observed, this does not cause it to lose any of its charm. Rather, it adds to it. And I Love You Because is, most definitely, not your bog-standard musical.
I think it is best to begin with the actors themselves. I Love You Because has a small cast: only six people. But this gave scope to pull off six very different and very distinctive personalities. They all deserve a mention: Jacie Simpkins pulled off a Marcy who was the very model of a musical heroine. Emily Hardy’s Diana was comically efficient and mathematical about everything, only to have her entire life thrown into confusion. Ralph Skan gave a performance of Austin who was whimsical and awkward. Ben Gruenberg had the entire audience chuckling with his careless and typically wanton Jeff. Katie Sterland and Freddie Collings, despite having the comparatively more minor roles of Brigitte and Danny, made their presence felt on stage to the equals of the main characters, crackling with one-liners and philosophical insights. The diversity of personality was apparent, as was the energy committed to them by the actors.
The setting was also brilliant. I was at the matinee performance, for which Jacob actually apologised afterwards, because doing it in the middle of the afternoon prevented the lighting from being operational. I confess the absence of lighting had not even crossed my mind, showing that despite fears it did not detract from the performance in the least. Excellent use was made of what was comparatively only a few bits of furniture and props.
No review of any musical would be complete without mention of the songs. If I had to pick out a few individual songs I really loved (which is difficult, considering that they were all brilliant), I would have to mention the hilarious renditions by Gruenberg and Hardy of “We’re Just Friends” and Simpkin, Hardy, Sterland and Collings of “What Do We Do it For”, both of which left me gasping with laughter. Then, of course, there was the title song and Simpkin and Skan’s solo songs, which brought a lump to my throat. Whatever the style of the song, it was beautifully sung and delivered. The band deserve as much applause as the actors for their playing, which was smooth and nuanced.
It is said that no review is complete without one point of possible improvement. Ultimately, all I can think of is that it was occasionally somewhat difficult to pick out the words over the music. It is always risky using microphones for musicals, they are quite temperamental. It was a shame that sometimes the words of the songs were so drowned out that I found it difficult to hear the songs, which contained so many brilliant jokes of their own. This is, however, a very minor point, and should not be seen as a criticism of the performance itself.
In short; well done. Stringing together jokes, songs and witty philosophical observations on life, it was an amazing piece of drama. Applause is well deserved.
Photograph: I Love You Because Production Team