Look, I get it. Art must never stagnate or rest complacently on its laurels. Innovation can be wonderful, especially in new pieces. Some older works can find new life in fresh interpretations that reflect changing realities. But explain to me how presenting Eva Peron singing Don’t Cry For Me Argentina in her underwear in any way achieves this? Presumably, it represents the naked reality behind the fake facade of her public persona. Sure. And totally unnecessary. The remarkably pointed and perceptive lyrics by Tim Rice already do that throughout the show with extraordinary precision. It is a redundant piece of stunt theatre. It not only completely ignores the central importance of that famous broadcast from the Casa Rosada, it only works on the assumption that everyone in the audience is fully informed on the full context of the situation. Great art should be able to stand in isolation. This show only ‘works’ if you already carry the clear image of what it is trying to deconstruct. It is as arrogant as it is flawed.
Madonna, Elaine Paige and Patti Lupone loom large over this iconic show but are still overshadowed by the real woman who inspired it all. Jamie Lloyd’s production seems intent and even proud not to give people what they expect. What is wrong with expecting a beautiful delivery of a beautiful score, accompanied by a powerful complicated love story and muscular examination of the human spirit’s greatest frailties and flaws?
Why change everything to present a message when the lyrics already contain everything you need to know?
I could accept the lack of sets, costumes, scale and sense of time and place if I actually cared for one moment about a single person on stage or had any sense of who they were, as a human being let alone iconic figure from history.
Samantha Pauly plays Evita as a ghetto rat smirking her way to the top. Yes, Eva Peron can be thumbnailed like that, but why did she succeed when similar millions throughout history did not? There is no sense of the fierce and feral intelligence, the instinct to play a situation and a mark, the beguiling seductress. Eva succeeded through tremendous charisma. This show has none.
Pauly only dons the white ballgown and blonde wig for an ironic final shot. Very clever. Fair enough, if that is your ‘concept’ to present the Eva behind the Evita. but then why have Eva’s followers wear T-shirts with the iconic Evita image, or a young fan meet her dressed the same way, while Eva herself is in trainers, a slip and long brunette curls? It is all too meta and muddled.
Introduce us to the real Eva by all means. Except, this show actually has nothing much to say about her. If she is supposed to be a metaphor for modern social media fake idols and false gods, how many of them clawed their way up from the gutter aged fifteen, to become one of the most powerful women in the world in a world that had no immediate social media? If that is not the point of this modern interpretation, then what the hell is? Examine her methods and motivations, absolutely, but do not diminish her extraordinary impact or life, whatever you think of it.
Evita and Che at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Evita sings in her underwear at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Robbed of personality, too many of the songs are similarly diminished.
The glorious Goodnight and Thank You passes by with a whimper and faint amusement. The delicious dance of two opportunist manipulators in I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You left me flat. I wouldn’t flirt with either of them at a party, let alone vote for them and worship them as the saviours of my nation.
Ektor Rivera is blandly slick as Peron. Trent Saunders’ has the voice for Che and some of the necessary (if rather smug) cynicism but is relentlessly one-dimensional and just too hammy in some of the more dramatic moments. He irritatingly pulls attention as Pauly finally starts to unleash Eva’s dying despair.
I suspect the buck for all this stops with the direction (not the talent) too concerned with message and mission and less with actually creating any living, breathing characters.
In the, literally, dying moment of the show Pauly let out a heartwrenching scream, raging against the world as her weak body betrays her. It was sensational. For one moment I felt her, her agony, her fury, her enormous spirit. Where was the this is the rest of the show?
It started so strongly, opening with Che sitting on the steps as a dying Eva crawls up towards him. The glorious first bars of Requiem For Evita ring out and the cast enter down the aisles, igniting smoke flares. Confetti cannons go off. It is arresting and powerful, but turns out to be the sole trick of a tired pony.
Evita spay painted at Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Smoke chokes the air constantly, confetti rains down, jets of steam erupt, gouts of flame belch side stage. Overuse dulls the impact. As does the ‘symbolic’ popping of balloons.
As does the fact that I already saw Jesus Christ aggressively splattered with blood and glitter in the Regent’s Park production of Superstar. This time it happens to Che, who laughably chucks his socks and shoes offstage mid-strip, before buckets of paint and confetti tar and feather him.
And yes, Jesus was body painted by his adoring followers in the same production. This time Eva is lazily spray painted as she ‘transforms’ during the usually spectacular Rainbow High. It just looked inept, an attempt at graffiti art that would be laughed off any railway arch, let alone catwalk.
Why do all modern reinterpretations, from numerous Royal Shakespeare modernisations to, yes, that Jesus Christ Superstar, insist on dressing everyone in bland shades of pale grey, beige or white like sample sale Calvin Klein diffusion line clones? Is it sophisticated? A blank canvas? Yet another metaphor?
Please, don’t try and sell me on something new when I’ve actually seen it all before. And if we want to get more technical, the show has three further flaws.
Evita and Peron lost in the smoke at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Fundamentally, why stage this at the Open Air Theatre with Regents Park and the skyline rising behind it? It is a stunning setting which previous productions have incorporated into their vision. This one seems to purposely work against it. Part of the reason I suspect the Second Act was somewhat stronger is because night had fallen and we could no longer see the backdrop.
Secondly, Soutra Gilmour’s stark stage resembled the tiered bleachers at a high school sports hall. There were moments of elegant simplicity, but no opportunity to ever create any sense of scale or situation. The uniformly excellent dancers were completely limited by the narrow confines of each step. The supposedly epic rising up of the people in A New Argentina looked more like a basketball pep rally on Glee.
Thirdly, Pauly has a pretty soprano and a fine chest range but too many time she was left exposed belting uncomfortably high notes on rousing numbers like A New Argentina. The musical direction should have addressed this. I enjoyed her performance but there was just one screech too many. And she was painfully off-key on my absolute favourite refrain “Oh If I go too far, it’s because of the things you are,” in Buenos Aires.
What’s new? Everything. And you can keep it.
EVITA AT THE REGENT’S PARK OPEN AIR THEATRE TO SEPTEMBER 21: INFO AND TICKETS HERE