It’s a tad early in the year to be saying this, but, if you’re only going to see one play in 2020 you might want to consider making it Romantics Anonymous, a delicious confection from Wise Children and Plush Theatricals, playing at Bristol Old Vic ahead of a major international tour. It is sublime.

Romantics Anonymous tells the story of Angélique, a painfully shy but incredibly talented chocolatier who is prone to fainting when people look at her, and Jean-René, the most socially awkward man you are ever likely to meet and owner of a failing chocolate factory that is desperately in need of a miracle.

Their love story is almost painful to watch, it feels like the entire audience holds its breath as they take their first kiss, but you find yourself wanting it to work out for them with every fibre of your being.

Carly Bawden and Marc Antolin in Romantics Anonymous, Wise Children, Credit Steve Tanner
Credit: Steve Tanner

The cast, led by Carly Bawden and Marc Antolin as Angélique and Jean-René, is just nine strong, with all but the two leads playing two or three characters each. It’s never confusing but, oh my goodness, it must be frantic backstage with the number of quick changes they each have. They are supported by four musicians, just visible on the upper level of the set, which is based on an original design by Lez Brotherston.

The show starts with a magic trick and continues to enchant right to the end with beautiful songs, perfect choreography, many moments of comedy and bits of sadness too. It’s a simple story but with many layers of detail, I am confident you could watch it on repeat and spot something new each time.

I find myself almost disappointed when the lights go up for the interval, but without that break there would be no opportunity for the bonus musical number performed in the dining area that overlooks the main bar – how do these performers not need to rest between acts?

Gareth Snook (centre) with ensemble in Romantics Anonymous, Wise Children, Credit Steve Tanner.
Credit: Steve Tanner

Act Two finds me wiping tears away more than once – tears of joy, tears of sadness, and tears because it’s just such a beautiful show, very close to theatrical perfection.

A standing ovation at Bristol Old Vic is a rare thing so when it happens you know you’ve witnessed something pretty special. There was never any doubt in my mind there would be one last night and it was thoroughly deserved.

This is the third production from Wise Children; I’ve enjoyed them all and can’t wait to see what Emma Rice and her team come up with next.

As I write this, there are some seats left but I would recommend early booking as I don’t think they’ll be available for long.

Romantics Anonymous runs at The Bristol Old Vic Theatre until 1 February 2020. Find out more and buy tickets here, then see what else is on at Bristol's theatres

Read next: Review - The Book of Mormon at Bristol Hippodrome


Bristol Old Vic Theatre
Bristol Old Vic Theatre exterior

Built in 1766, Bristol Old Vic is the oldest continuously working theatre in the English speaking world, and remains a place of joy, discovery and adventure to this day.

Romantics Anonymous streamed live from Bristol Old Vic
Virtual Event
Romantics Anonymous streamed live from Bristol Old Vic

Funny, tender and painfully awkward, Romantics Anonymous is a delicious love story about breaking the mould and finding the courage to be happy.