ALL ABOUT EVE
by Joseph L Mankiewicz
Adapted for the stage by Ivo van Hove.
Noel Coward Theatre, 85-88 St Martin’s Lane, London WC2N 4AU to 11 May 2019.
Mon- Sat 7.30pm Mat Thurs & Alternate Saturdays 2.30 pm.
Runs 2 Hr No interval.
TICKETS: 0844 482 5151
Review: William Russell 16 February
All about ageing – and rather dull
The best thing to do is to forget the 1950 film which starred Bette Davis as Margo Channing, the star who fell victim to the ambitious Eve Harrington, played by Anne Baxter and take this version of the Mankiewicz story at its face value. It does not dazzle, but it is handsomely and inventively staged and while the stars – Gillian Anderson as Channing and Lily James as Harrington – do not make the roles their own they do efficient enough jobs and don’t trip over the scenery. Van Hove had a hit at the National when he adapted Network for the stage, the 1976 film starring Peter Finch about the news anchor who goes crazy on screen and uses his power to inflame the nation watching, a film which seems even more prescient today than when it was made. His use of all sorts of electronic techniques worked brilliantly, aided by a stunning central performance from Brian Cranston.
But that was a very different film, one which does not occupy the place the Manckiewicz one does in the popular sensibilities. It is not really remembered, whereas Davis announcing that it is time to fasten your seatbelts is one of cinema’s great moments.
Part of the trouble is that Anderson, a very good actress, does not create a star and Margo is just that, the sort of actress people go to see regardless and because of who she is every bit as much as because of what she is in or does in the part.
Davis, whose film career was on the slide at the time, revived it with this role – and there were others to come. But if the film is about naked ambition and stardom, the van Hove vision is about ageing and he hammers it home relentlessly. There is a scene in which Margo looks in her dressing room mirror and we see on the screen looming over the back of the stage her face slowing changing into that of an old woman. Fair enough. But later he repeats it with Harrington, which labours the point. Lily James, while pretty enough, is also turned into a far nastier character than Baxter is in the film and she is too limited an actress to suggest that as well as ruthless ambition Eve has what it takes to become a star, a beloved monster of the masses.
Van Hove has stripped the stage back so that we are in the world of the theatre, the set has two small boxes into which people go and the events inside are shown on a screen on the back wall, and he has emphasised the essence of stardom by placing lots of huge photographs of the two women round the walls, which change as their fortunes change. It is a clever, thought throughproduction, but ultimately not very entertaining and the witty lines come and go, some plopping damply into space – including the seat belts one. It is the equivalent of the handbag. How do you do it? Anderson does not solve the problem. She is good, but this is not a goddess of the stage whose whims and wishes need to be obeyed.
The other trouble is that the film was one of those Hollywood accidents –perfectly cast, the actors stamping something on their roles that is unforgettable. The excellent Monica Dolan does what she can with Karen, the wife of the playwright who provides Margo with her star vehicles and whose friendship with Eve leads her to an act of treachery, but she cannot dim memories of Celeste Holm – and the same goes for Stanley Townsend as Addison De Witt, suave and nasty though he is. De Witt is forever George Sanders.
The only person to manage it is Sheila Reid as Birdie, Margo’s dresser, the role played by Thelma Ritter and one which defined pretty well everything she was later asked to play. Reid, who is much too old for the part in truth, has the required quality to make it work – not star star quality but presence. When she moves forward to utter a line you see her and she holds the attention simply walking through a scene.
At least van Hove avoids doing a pastiche of the film – nobody imitates the original players – but he has not managed to recreate in the theatre this story about the theatre, about naked ambition, about the fragility of stardom that Manckiewicz managed in the movie.
In other words it is all rather dull, but as long as one forgets the film it passes the time agreeably enough.
Margo Channing: Gillian Anderson
Eve Harrington: Lily James.
Karen Richards: Monica Dolan.
Max Fabian: Ian Drysdale.
Phoebe: Tstion Habte.
Claudia Caswell: Jessie Mei Li.
Bill Sampson: Julian Ovenden.
Birdie: Shiela Reid.
Lloyd Richards: Rashan Stone.
Addiston De Witt: Stanley Townsend.
Pianist: Philip Voyzey.
Ensemble: Merric Boyd, Fejiro Amasiobi, Charles Hagerty, Chanelle Modi, Stuart Nunn.
Understudies: Phillipa Peak, Grace Stone, Michael Warburton.
Director: Ivo van Hove.
Set & Lighting Designer: Jan Versweyveld.
Costume Designer: An D’Huys.
Sound Designer: Tom Gibbons.
Dialect Coach: William Canacher.
Video Supervisor: Chris Jackson.
Video Animation: Alex Unragallo.
Production Photographer: Jan Versweyveld.
Headshot Photographer: Johan Persson.