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Jan 7th, 2019
Based on the 1950 film by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and 1946 short story by Mary Orr, All About Eve, now playing at the Noel Coward Theatre, tells the all too familiar tale of a successful woman Margo Channing, illustrious star of the stage, usurped by a younger fan, an innocent yet ambitious Eve Harrington. Emotion and psychological games ensue before each of them discovers that, surprise surprise, all their power and agency belongs to the men around them anyway. It's an iconic movie, but like many movies made in the past, its themes could do with a bit of an update.
Which is what one expects from an adaptation with a pedigree like this one. Directed and adapted by man-of-the-moment Ivo van Hove, and starring Gillian Anderson and Lily James, you could be forgiven for hoping for something truly intriguing. What we're actually given is a strange trifle that trades on stunning performances, achingly stylish design and dazzling technical and video wizardry, hoping that you won't dig too deep and see that the book itself is flat, underwritten, and feels about as timely as the pocket calculator.
Do we really, in 2019, need to see another story of women battling women through the heady heights of showbiz, being manipulated by all and sundry along the way? It could be interesting if the writer had had the time (or inclination?) to delve into the true souls of said women. But like Mary Orr getting no credit for the film inspired by her work, no women have writing credits here either. This failing shows - what we get is a production that pays more lip service to its inspiration and its main star than is strictly necessary, rather than building on it and asking more questions about the position these women are in, and what truly motivates them. The story is All About Eve and yet Eve's character development, compared to Margo's, is little developed, with her switch from ingenue to villain almost shoehorned in to give Anderson more time to shine. This is not the actors' fault, of whom, Monica Dolan, Gillian Anderson and Lily James do their utmost to create something fascinating in a trio of gorgeous performances (Dolan for the Olivier). Without their star power and talent and that of the wider supporting cast, it would have been a lot more of a sorry conclusion.
And on the positives, it does succeed in being an entertaining play, a proper 'van Hove experience' if you will, and one many will be all the more pleased for having seen. The videography alone - consisting of a camera crew on the stage, beaming the action back to us on screens around the auditorium - is exciting and lends a filmic glamour to proceedings. And PJ Harvey's music, costumes from An D'Huys and set from Jan Versweyveld, provide a modish, if a little confusingly anachronistic, touch that works really well alongside.
However, it's still sadly disappointing overall. To paraphrase a quote from Alan Bennett's The History Boys that was rattling round my head the morning after - lucid and up to a point compelling, but if you're trying to say anything new, it escaped me. B+
View our show pages for more information about All About Eve, Noel Coward Theatre.
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