Evita at the Curve
Review by Charlotte Beaver
Making my debut writing for Thurmaston Times, I was privileged to be asked to attend press night for Curve’s latest production: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Evita. Seeing the “Made At Curve” badge is usually a solid bet of quality and this production is no different.
We begin with a very imposing safety curtain with EVITA projected onto it in stark white writing, floor to ceiling. This intimidating tone is continued throughout the show, as the audience becomes the crowd and an extension of the ensemble as ‘the people’ of Argentina.
The staging and aesthetic follows the current trend of stripped back and unfussy, with views right into the wings and lighting rigs forming the stadium in which the performance of Eva’s performance takes place. The whole auditorium is used in this immersive experience. Lighting is stark and powerful, often interrogatingly illuminating the audience and again bringing us into the story as extras – sometimes in a thrillingly unsettling way, especially with supporting cast in the aisles enforcing compliance while chanting Peron. The bare bones of the story are echoed in the sparse setting, with the main scenery being a functional large staircase which never settled for long – like some of the characters. Unfortunately, this staircase often obscured views of the big screen – this device of using live footage on stage seems to be a Curve favourite, but I’m still not convinced. Sometimes it worked well, providing split staging opportunities and realistic journalism insight, capturing views we might have missed in the vastness of the auditorium – it also framed Eva as a modern day influencer and made me think about how we know a lot more about our political figures thanks to social media. Perhaps not for the better! However, it was overused. We often got views of the stairs, floor, legs of the company – and I think less would definitely be more. Especially when a camera truck is wheeled across the front of the stage painfully slowly, despite the actor holding a very portable steady cam! The use of platforms and gangways was much more inventive and pleasing, especially when the pedestal Eva rises to is used to crush the people, a powerful image that stays with you. And of course the locker room scene, that’s not to be missed – especially with the robust muscular choreography from Adam Murray. I hope to see more of his work at Curve.
The ensemble are a wonderful embellishment, providing much-needed light relief as the upper-class snobs, Eva’s previous partners, or social commentary on the plot - helping us understand the feelings of the story, as there isn’t all that much to the storyline. They don’t miss a beat, smoothing over transitions and some of the whole-company vocals pin you into your seat. The inclusion of Curve Young Company members was considered and appropriate, a great opportunity for some local talent.
I most enjoyed the musical direction (Ben Van Tienen & Stephen Brooker), fans of the original score will not be disappointed but some subtle shifts of tempo or style bring the music up to date – in particularly, a heart-breaking performance of Another Suitcase in Another Hall from Chumisa Dornford-May was the best surprise of all. Leading Lady Martha Kirby will receive much praise for her vocal ability too. I saw her in the UK Bat Out Of Hell tour as Raven, and she really is an exceptional vocalist, but that problematic production didn’t show off her acting talents – As Eva, she is able to switch from unrelentingly defiant and powerful to pitifully fragile, without a hint of melodrama. She and Peron created a smoulderingly intimate ‘I’d Be Surprisingly Good For You’ so filled with sexual tension, we feel like a voyeur – we then find their relationship keeps subtly changing throughout future duets, despite Eva herself remaining driven and consistent.
Much like the production itself, this is definitely the story of a driven Eva Duarte, and other lead characters are almost inconsequential. I was hoping for a lovely rich sumptuous Andrew Lloyd Webber decadent production, but the only nod to this was the lush blood-red velvet curtain and Eva’s gorgeous costumes in jewel colours as she achieved success. Just like Sunset Boulevard’s recent hot take, this is a new staging style which is very striking – but I don’t want to see every reboot done in this way, especially with on-stage camera work and unnecessary confetti! However, this show is all about one woman and Nikolai Foster’s latest creation puts her at the very heart of it, showcasing her ‘star quality.’ It is “more than entertaining peasants” and I’m sure will entertain the masses of Leicester and beyond. Last seen in the West End in 2015, we are lucky to have daring staging debuting in our city.