Friday, August 23, 2019
Evita @ Regent's Park Open Air Theatre...
Back in 2016, the Open Air Theatre enjoyed tremendous success with an edgy, silver paint and glitter-infused version of another Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice classic, Jesus Christ Superstar, which returned to the venue for a second sold-out run in 2017 and can currently be seen at the Barbican. This time round it’s Evita getting the open air treatment. Could lightning strike twice?
Well, yes. Ish.
Some shows lend themselves well to the future tinkerings of bold, young directors and some should be delivered straight to the taxidermy room for strict preservation for the rest of eternity. Which was it to be with Evita? **Spoiler** Bit of column A, bit of column B.
This production of Evita is a very different beast to both that JCS production and to what Evita purists might think of as "their Evita". The way it 'normally gets done.' Because people love this show. They really do. And messing with the classics can be a risky business.
First, the not so good stuff. The production feels strangely stripped back and yet overstuffed at the same time. The set is simply bleachers, or steps, leading downstage making the show effectively a rock concert with a bit of dancing.
Nothing wrong with that, of course, but rock concert lighting can cast shadows both literally and figuratively across any performance. With harsh spotlights you can't always see the actor's face or indeed see what they are trying to get across with their acting. And don't get me started on all those pointless microphone cables - they tried not to trip over - when they all had radio mics!
At the start of Act I when Agustin Magaldi serenades us with "On This Night of a Thousand Stars" I couldn’t help but wonder what the great Harold Prince, the musical’s original director who sadly passed away just over a week ago, would be thinking right now.
But I have admit, this should not really have come as a surprise. Visionary director Jamie Lloyd, who has made a name for himself with daring re-imaginings of classics such as his Olivier-nominated revivals of Piaf and the Scottish play, has, as expected, gone to town with this production. Yes, folks, here is the headline you have been waiting for.... "Oh! What a Circus"! There, I said it! I am not sure I have ever witnessed as many confetti cannons and pyrotechnics in all my years of attending the theatre and I’ve certainly never seen as many impetuously unleashed at the Open Air Theatre before. It was like the Battle of the Somme - only with more canon fire and more smoke.
Add to said smoke flares some spray paint cans, buckets of white paint, buckets of sky blue paint, and glitter galore and you are starting to get the picture.
Lloyd’s motifs are omnipresent and dominant in this production and some land better than others do. For example, his use of balloons works brilliantly during "The Art of the Possible" musical number as those generals who would oppose the corrupt Argentinian regime are underhandedly 'silenced,' signified on stage by the bursting of their respective balloons. Some choices may come across as a little too abstract though, such as the decimation of Che, who strips down to his underwear towards the end of the production before Eva herself attacks him with buckets of paint and a bucket of confetti.
Trent Saunders’ portrayal of Che, complete with khaki pants and a red T-shirt sporting the epochal image of Che Guevara, is a misfire in the sense that the character staggers around the stage angrily, disorientated, or even seemingly inebriated at times and therefore no longer commands our attention, as the character should. Saunders undoubtedly has the talent and the vocals in his arsenal; it would have been intriguing to experience a more authoritative or else more sympathetic interpretation.
Samantha Pauly and Ektor Rivera are both physically stunning and well matched as Eva and Juan Perón, respectively, and Pauly delivers the big numbers like "Buenos Aires" and the immortal "Don’t Cry For Me Argentina" effortlessly. Spending most of the show in her loose-fitting slip, symbolic of Eva’s lower-class beginnings as well as the bedroom, where she would instigate her rise through the ranks of society, it is only in the dying moments of the show (after Eva’s untimely death) that we finally see Pauly kitted out in the classic white, sparkling dress, jewellery and blonde wig. She raises her arms in the air to give the audience that iconic pose, etched in musical theatre history forever, and freezes like a glorious tombstone as the lights fade to black... and most of the Evita purists in attendance finally got a glimpse of what they came for.
A great show. An inventive production. That (mostly) works.