Words: Phillip Game
I have no shame in admitting how excited I was about Ivo van Hove's take on the classic 1950 masterpiece, All About Eve. His previous productions, such as Network and Hedda Gabler, were roaring successes so my expectations for Eve were high.
The disappointing thing is I found it underwhelming. Never was Margo Channing's iconic one-liner more appropriately applied to a piece of theatre: "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night”...
The show certainly made for a bumpy night, with fantastic performances in some places and underwhelming ones in others. What is signature Van Hove - spartan sets and his stripped-back style - seemed to add to the feeling that the production lacked the intensity and emotional impact of his work.
The plot has all the hallmarks of what should have been a terrifically campy play: You have Margo Channing (Gillian Anderson), an ageing actress with fabulously acerbic wit. Opposite, you have Eve Harrington (Lily James), the ambitious and scheming starlet come to usurp everything in Margo’s life that makes her a star. Think Nomi Malone pushing Crystal Connors down the stairs in Showgirls and you get the gist.
Anderson has the daunting task of filling the shoes of the formidable Bette Davis, yet she takes a much softer approach to the role and, for me, didn’t quite strike the balance between the character’s hard-nosed cynicism and her vulnerability and paranoia about her longevity as an actress.
In contrast, James’ performance as Eve was every bit the besotted fan, who uses her charm and beauty to snake her way into Margo’s life and steal it. Her performance stole the show.
Sheila Reid as Birdie was fabulous, only having her enter the stage in a bikini, perma-tan and mobility scooter would have made it better. She brought more than a few laughs with her sharp put-downs and clapbacks. And Monica Dolan as Margo’s long suffering friend, Karen, puts in a great performance as she narrates and guides us through this bumpy journey of betrayal and ambition.
The irony of this production is that it should have been about the triumph of character over the superficiality of beauty. However, what you find is that with Anderson’s diluted take on Margo being overshadowed by James’ commanding performance as Eve, it seems the exact opposite happened.