Noël Coward Theatre (venue)
15 February 2019 (released)
18 February 2019
All About Eve centres on the character of Margot Channing, a theatre superstar who employs her apparent superfan, Eve, as her assistant. This production directed by Ivo van Hove augments the stage action with TV screens and cameras, taking the audience into hidden rooms and backstage to underline the level of celebrity scrutiny. Unfortunately the heavy use of technology, whilst clever constantly draws the eye to the screens and it requires a conscious effort on the part of the audience to return to the live action on stage. The relatively simple stage set and the inclusion of actual backstage areas gives the action a spacious feeling when a claustrophobic set would generate more menace. That said, the soundtrack by PJ Harvey is suitably unsettling.
Gillian Anderson is magnificent, using the screens with aplomb to convey the most subtle of facial gestures. At one point, she demonstrates with the swivel of a single eyeball what a powerful actress she is. There is no questioning why her steely Margot is a star at the centre of a demanding entourage. Lily James in the title role is not as impressive. She has a fine stage presence but is wholly one thing or another when her role requires the signalling of increasing duplicity. This leads to the strange effect of the other characters relaying their growing suspicions of Eve's motives before the audience sees any evidence of this.
Two themes are brought to the fore: the focus on women's fear of ageing, which feels hopelessly dated, and that all these women are ultimately beholden to men, which is sadly not, and more could perhaps been made of this given its timeliness. The only character who isn't reliant to any degree on a man is Birdie, Margot's dresser and maid, played here by the underused Sheila Reid. Rashan Stone gives a terrific nuanced performance as the playwright Lloyd Richards, who gradually allows Eve to supplant Margot as his muse.
Overall, this is a fine production with a talented cast, and if you can get a ticket, is an exhilarating, if bumpy, night.
Until 11 May at the Noel Coward Theatre, London.
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