Although Emma Rice’s musical “Romantics Anonymous” had to be scrapped from the Shakespeare Theatre Company’s spring schedule due to Covid-19, theater lovers now have a chance to view a live performance of the show thanks to a special five-day streaming of the musical from September 22-25.
The show is an adaptation of the French-Belgian film “Les Émotifs anonymes” by Jean-Pierre Améris and Philippe Blasband, and follows the story of two French chocolatiers – Angélique, a shy young woman who pours her soul into her renowned chocolates, and Jean-René, a similarly anxious young man struggling to keep his father’s chocolate factory from failing. As they grow closer, the story follows the pair as they try to put their anxieties aside in the name of love.
“’Romantics Anonymous’ is the perfect play for right now, while so many of us are still working from home, sheltering in place and missing live theater; as it’s about social anxiety, loneliness and the desire to connect with others,” says Simon Godwin, STC’s artistic director. “It reflects many of our complex feelings right now. It’s also a beautiful, joyous, romantic comedy with delightful songs and quirky characters. And, of course, it’s live theater. It’s the perfect escape.”
Rice, artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe in London, wrote and directed the critically acclaimed “Brief Encounter” at STC in 2014 and will direct the live performances of “Romantics Anonymous” from the Bristol Old Vic in the UK.
“We are so excited to bring Emma Rice’s flamboyant work back to STC’s stages after her glorious production of ‘Brief Encounter,’” Godwin said. “I’ve long been a fan of Emma’s work, which is whimsical and spirited, while being deeply serious about the profound ways we all interconnect.”
An interesting part of the process is that the actors and creative team are living and working together in a “bubble” environment, which has proved effective for sports leagues like the NBA and NHL.
Gareth Snook, who plays the roles of Mercier, Mumbler and Marini in the show, notes it’s been seven months since the company finished its run in Bristol prior to the U.S. tour being canceled, so he is looking forward to reuniting with fellow cast members and bringing the show to new audiences.
“Fortunately, the whole team gets on famously so the fact that we will only be in contact with each other is not going to be a problem,” he says. “The two weeks’ work on the show will be intense and fully focused on mounting the show; in fact, pretty much like it would be under normal conditions. Of course, we will miss going to restaurants and bars after the show, which is a great way of relaxing. There will be a lot of food deliveries to our apartments I think.”
Laura Jane Matthewson, who plays the character of Young Girl, is thrilled that she’ll be singing and dancing on a stage again, as opposed to her living room.
“I think it will be slightly daunting at first to be away from home and isolating with a different set of people after so long in my own bubble, but there’s also something quite exciting about being a part of this new way of working,” she says. “It feels like a story I will tell the grandkids in years to come when they ask what Granny did during the pandemic – apart from making Quarantinis! It is not lost on me how lucky we are to be able to come together and do something we love at a time that feels very uncertain for the theater industry.”
Harry Hepple, who plays Ludo and Remi, was a fan of the show when it premiered at the Shakespeare’s Globe back in 2018, so to become part of the cast in 2020 was a real “pinch yourself” moment for the actor.
“It’s a delicate love story filled with characters and life events we can all relate to,” Hepple says. “And true to Emma’s form, they are handled and articulated with such a dexterity that they simultaneously punch a hole in your chest whilst filling you to the brim with scintillating joy. Being a fan of the show, I’ve experienced that first hand as an audience member, so to now be able to share this story with people as a performer is a nothing short of a privilege.”
Godwin looks forward to bringing community together through art and emotion during the livestream later this month.
“One of the really wonderful things about ‘Romantics Anonymous’ is that there were several theaters in the U.S. that were going to present this delightful show on tour this spring, and now, this live production will still be available to audiences across the nation,” Godwin says. “Theater is all about community – laughing and crying and sharing beautiful, emotional responses – even falling into the same rhythmic heartbeat. We need theater more than ever.”
The livestream will be held at 2:30 p.m. from September 22-25, and a final show at 4 p.m. on Saturday, September 26. Tickets may be purchased here.