It’s even more stripped back than any previous production of Evita I’ve come across – by default as well as by design, there’s a greater emphasis on the lyrics and the spoken narrative. It works, thanks in large part to the charisma of Tyrone Huntley’s Che, who narrates the show, stamping his own authority on a role that sees the character telling it like it is. There’s nothing new, I suppose, about political leaders saying there will be change for the better but with little, if anything, to show for it in the end, though this production goes to some lengths to portray quite how bleak things are for the general population in Argentina at the time.
The large Curve stage is used well for the big ensemble numbers, and the cast’s collective voices provide the kind of hair-raising experience that does the music and lyrics justice, but at other times, the stage looks and feels woefully bare. Something’s missing, something’s not quite right, the staging reflecting political and personal realities, however much Juan Perón (a convincing Gary Milner) and his cronies engaged in spin, and however much Eva (Martha Kirby) puts on a brave face for her adoring fans.
The ensemble’s everyday clothes in rehearsal photos in the programme are more colourful than what they wear on stage, while the upper classes are dressed in relative finery. This could, of course, simply be a matter of budgetary constraints (and who doesn’t have those in a cost-of-living crisis?), which would also explain why there isn’t a single violin in the orchestra pit, which occasionally results in a rather over-synthesised sound. The production goes as far as literally portraying ‘descamisados’ – that is, ‘shirtless ones’ – the low-income working classes where much of Perón’s electoral support came from. There was, in other words, a point to all those men whipping their clothes off, besides providing eye candy.
An article in the programme puts forward the idea that Eva Perón was, in effect, an influencer decades before the word ‘influencer’, as we know it today, became commonplace. In line with other revived musicals at Curve in recent years, the production is briskly paced, with exquisitely speedy choreography (Adam Murray) that occasionally sees a handheld prop fly out of the hands of a cast member, with not even half a nanosecond available to pick it up. They carried on regardless.
Chumisa Dornford-May makes the most of her solo number, ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’, as passionate as it was poignant. Much use is made of live video projections, particularly of Eva, who was a film actress before she went into politics – a handheld camera is, at one point, passed on from one person to another, to another, like a baton in a relay race. But we only know this is Argentina because the word ‘Argentina’ repeatedly crops up: the staircase and balcony on stage could be representative of any number of places around the world. I get why the cast retain their natural accents – speaking and singing in English with faux Argentinian accents would probably be very cringey. At the same time, however, I wondered whether I was watching a BBC period drama.
This isn’t the only Andrew Lloyd Webber musical this season to rely heavily on camera work, Sunset Boulevard at the Savoy Theatre being the other notable one, although given the development periods involved, it’s highly unlikely that one copied from the other. The energy and enthusiasm in this production made it easy to maintain interest throughout. As for Kirby’s Eva, to quote one of the song titles, “she is a diamond”, with a steely and stoic determination. Last year’s festive offering was The Wizard of Oz, which makes Evita a curious choice for a Christmas production, and while it isn’t perfect, it is nonetheless worth seeing.
Review by Chris Omaweng
As Eva Duarte, a child born into poverty, she followed her dreams of becoming an actress. As Eva Perón, she captured the hearts of Argentina’s working classes, broke new ground for women in politics and became the most powerful woman in Latin America.
CREDITS & ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by Nikolai Foster
Orchestrations by David Cullen and Andrew Lloyd Webber
Based on Orchestrations originally by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Set Designer Michael Taylor
Musical Supervisor Stephen Brooker
Musical Director Ben van Tienen
Choreographer Adam Murray
Lighting Designer Joshie Harriette
Sound Designer Adam Fisher
Wigs, Hair and Make-up Designer Sam Cox
Casting Directors Kay Magson CDG & Olivia Laydon
Production Manager Patrick Molony
Associate Musical Director Tom Slade
Associate Choreographer: Lee Bridgman
Associate Sound Designer Harry Barker
Associate Production Manager Chris Easton
Birkbeck Assistant Director Joe Gilmour
Assistant Musical Director George Strickland
Company Stage Manager: Paul Sawtell
Deputy Stage Manager: Anne Baxter
Assistant Stage Manager (Book cover): Lottie Mclarin
Assistant Stage Manager: Naomi Ireland-Jones
By arrangement with The Really Useful Group Limited.
MON 27 NOV 2023 – SAT 13 JAN 2024