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Despite a magnificent Gillian Anderson, Ivo van Hove’s All About Eve lacks narrative pace

All About Eve 

Noël Coward Theatre, London                                                 Until May 11, 2hrs

Rating:

Gillian Anderson plays the ageing actress Margo Channing in this stage adaptation of the deliciously creepy 1950 movie. This was Bette Davis’s most famous role, as the impossible, hammy, cocktail-swigging diva who gets skewered by her understudy.

Eve Harrington is the aspiring actress and smitten fan who smarms her way into Margo’s life with flattery, fake modesty and total ruthlessness. 

I have to say, Lily James is an actress I had written off as hopelessly inane. But here she finds in herself some cold steel as the obliging but contemptuous understudy who betrays Margo and her coterie of showbiz pals.

Lily James (above) is surprisingly vicious as aspiring actress Eve Harrington, who smarms her way into Margo’s life with flattery, fake modesty and total ruthlessness

Lily James (above) is surprisingly vicious as aspiring actress Eve Harrington, who smarms her way into Margo’s life with flattery, fake modesty and total ruthlessness

The play is directed by Ivo van Hove – a Belgian perfectionist whose dinner you would not want to cook. But what amazing visual things he orchestrates here with his designer Jan Versweyveld.

The evening is an incredible array of gizmos, effects and camera feeds that make this a theatre-cinema hybrid. The boxy brown set raises thrillingly to reveal a backstage world of brickwork, poster portraits, clutter and lights. The backstage set in the original film was soil-pipe sordid. This is stylish Andy Warhol glitz.

The screens above the stage provide something the theatre doesn’t really do: close-ups. When Anderson – smoking like a chimney throughout – looks in the mirror, she tears at her face, which she sees decaying in the decades to come. The fear is palpable and no amount of cold cream removes it.

But it is Gillian Anderson's Margo that lights up the stage. The show is  all about women with the dull men (Julian Ovenden - above with Anderson - and Rhashan Stone) interchangeable

But it is Gillian Anderson’s Margo that lights up the stage. The show is all about women with the dull men (Julian Ovenden – above with Anderson – and Rhashan Stone) interchangeable

It’s a show, rightly, all about women. Apart from the two leads there’s a really rich performance from Monica Dolan as Margo’s long-suffering friend Karen. Sheila Reid twinkles as Margo’s impish assistant Birdie.

The dull men – Julian Ovenden as Margo’s lover and Rhashan Stone as a playwright – are interchangeable. 

The alpha male on stage is the plush theatre critic Addison DeWitt – some nice work from the girthsome Stanley Townsend, who smiles like a python digesting a baby antelope.

The alpha male on stage is the plush theatre critic Addison DeWitt – some nice work from Stanley Townsend (above with James), who smiles like a python digesting a baby antelope 

The alpha male on stage is the plush theatre critic Addison DeWitt – some nice work from Stanley Townsend (above with James), who smiles like a python digesting a baby antelope 

He reminds us that critics are ‘as essential to the theatre as ants are to a picnic’. His bond with his protégée Eve is that of two stone-cold killers.

There’s a lachrymose party scene in which Margo gets drunk (it’s here she utters the film’s most famous line, ‘Fasten your seatbelts, it’s gonna be a bumpy night’) and is sick into the loo. 

We lucky ticket-holders get a bird’s- eye view. The point being made is, perhaps, that everything in today’s culture has lost its privacy – even the contents of our stomachs.

Eve’s craving for fame feels bang up to date. But what is forgotten here is a sense of narrative pace. This is more of an essay than a yarn. The evening lapses into occasional boredom – a disappointment underscored by P J Harvey’s ceaseless, wafty music.

Thank goodness, then, for Gillian Anderson, who is peppermint-cool, trailing glamour in her wake. It is her class, her gowns, her career that light up an upmarket evening that could do with more sparks.

 

Dracula 

The London Library                                                                          Until Mar 9, 2hrs

Rating:

The reading room of The London Library is the setting for this stage version of the blood-sucking saga. A good idea, as it is where Bram Stoker did the research for his 1897 novel of vampirism. Even today, many of the library’s venerable members look like the undead.

Creation Theatre’s patchy production, adapted by Kate Kerrow and directed by Helen Tennison, is played in Fifties costume (I wasn’t sure why) and features a cast of just two. Sophie Greenham and Bart Lambert gamely come on in a variety of roles.

Prominent are the solicitor Jonathan Harker and his sexually frustrated wife Mina, who here undergoes psychoanalysis. They also appear as Dr Seward, Professor Van Helsing and Renfield, the fly-eating lunatic.

Sophie Greenham and Bart Lambert (above) gamely come on in a variety of roles in The London Library's production of Dracula but without the count himself there's a lack of bite

Sophie Greenham and Bart Lambert (above) gamely come on in a variety of roles in The London Library’s production of Dracula but without the count himself there’s a lack of bite

The storyline is confusing, and it keeps poor old Dracula off-stage. The production features two picture frames on to which howling wolves, flapping bats and two feline eyes that look like the poster for Cats are projected.

Despite the enjoyable Hammer House of Horror effects, not having an appearance by the count himself pretty much guarantees a lack of bite. 

 

Rip It Up 

Garrick Theatre, London                                               Until Jun 2, 2hrs 20mins

Rating:

This is a strange concept for a show, really: three former boyband members and a former Olympic gymnast, who have all appeared on Strictly Come Dancing (three won), now lead a cast in a dance production celebrating the Sixties, with bland pre-recorded interviews with the likes of Lulu and Roger Daltrey thrown in for good measure.

Aston Merrygold of JLS and Jay McGuiness of The Wanted also sing sometimes; Harry Judd – of McFly – plays the drums occasionally; and Louis Smith shows he’s still got skills on the pommel horse.

The boys are obviously not as good as the scorchingly talented dancers around them, but they aren’t bad either; Merrygold has particularly nifty footwork.

Aston Merrygold, Louis Smith, Harry Judd and Jay McGuiness may seem like a strange combination for a Sixties show, but they serve up a night of dancing, garish visuals & camp fun

Aston Merrygold, Louis Smith, Harry Judd and Jay McGuiness may seem like a strange combination for a Sixties show, but they serve up a night of dancing, garish visuals & camp fun

And the show provides much of the same fun as Strictly: it’s a bit sexy (there are mini-skirts that would make even Mary Quant blush) but it’s also pretty camp, serving up everything from go-go dancing to ballroom to stone-cold Sixties classics as performed by a tight live band.

With garish visuals and costumes, this vision of the Sixties makes Austin Powers look like cinéma vérité. But as we swing from The Beach Boys to The Beatles to Burt Bacharach, there’s no denying the enduring power of this music.

Holly Williams

 

Much Ado About Nothing     New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme                                                            Until Mar 2, touring to May 25, 2hrs 50mins 

Rating:

Northern Broadsides has set Shakespeare’s romcom during World War Two: think Land Girls and The Andrews Sisters.

The hapless but ultimately heroic Watchmen are perfectly recast here as enthusiastic Home Guard volunteers – Dad’s Army has nothing on this lot.

The show is jolly enough in its depiction of Beatrice and Benedick’s own war of wits: Isobel Middleton could have more bite and swagger, but it’s fun to watch Robin Simpson whip and froth himself into giddy amorousness. 

Northern Broadsides' production of Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing is solid and enjoyable, but it could use more fire. Above: Rachel Hammond and Sarah Kameela-Impey

Northern Broadsides’ production of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is solid and enjoyable, but it could use more fire. Above: Rachel Hammond and Sarah Kameela-Impey

The scene where his friends trick him into thinking Beatrice loves him is staged with real comic dash and fine detail in Conrad Nelson’s production.

But despite picking a resonant era, the play’s darker aspects feel underexplored, and moments of chilling tragedy don’t land. The villainous Don John (Richard J Fletcher) seems more like a meddling middle manager in a bad suit than a real baddie, while the vicious, suspicious young lover Claudio (Linford Johnson) is easily forgiven for his cruelty towards the innocent Hero.

Overall the show feels pretty uninspired in its staging, the characters almost holding each other at arms’ length – not ideal in a play where passions run so high.

This is a solid and enjoyable production but it could use more ice, and more fire. 

Holly Williams 

northern-broadsides.co.uk

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