All About Eve review – classic Hollywood updated with technical wizardry | Stage

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This is a show that reeks of chic. It stars Gillian Anderson and Lily James. It is adapted and directed by the Belgian wizard Ivo van Hove from a classic 1950 movie by Joseph Mankiewicz. It mixes live action and film with technical finesse. Yet, for all its skill, I found myself admiring its cleverness more than relishing its drama.

When van Hove and his designer, Jan Versweyveld, applied similar techniques to Network at the National they improved on the movie by highlighting the transformation of TV news into a branch of show-business. Here I’m not sure what the staging adds to the story of the eclipse of a legendary Broadway star, Margo Channing, by her dedicated disciple, Eve Harrington.

The movie manages to be both a satire on, and a love letter to, the hermetic absurdities of the theatre industry. Some of the zing and zip has gone out of the stage version, which treats Margo as a tragic figure. At one point Anderson sits in front of a mirror while tricksy camerawork shows her fine features rapidly ageing: at another, the camera eavesdrops on her spewing into a toilet-bowl while her party-guests make merry. This feels more like an Ingmar Bergman movie than a Mankiewicz satire.

Julian Ovenden and Gillian Anderson in All About Eve.

Julian Ovenden and Gillian Anderson in All About Eve. Photograph: Jan Versweyveld

The use of technology is admittedly sophisticated. At a celebrated Stork Club dinner party a ferocious encounter in the ladies’ room between Eve and Karen, wife of a famous playwright, is projected on to a screen as it happens: at the same time we see the subjects of their debate swilling champagne downstage. But there is a palpable irony to the fact that we are always conscious of watching a piece of director’s theatre. This is very much Van Hove’s show, whereas All About Eve depicts a vanished theatrical world where sacred monsters like Margo Channing ruled the roost and the writer and director were seen as totally subservient.

This is not to deny that the actors do a good job. Even if it is hard to accept Anderson as a fading beauty, she invests Margo with a slow drawl and a pensive awareness of her own dispensability: she’s less of a testy termagant than Bette Davis but more vulnerable in the style of Tennessee Williams’s Blanche Dubois. Lily James also captures Eve’s mix of faux-naivety and sly cunning and her features positively glow when the camera goes up close.

The most striking performances, however, come in the subsidiary roles. Monica Dolan is outstanding as Karen, the watchful civilian in a world of embattled theatrical pros, and Stanley Townsend is superb as the power-crazed critic, Addison DeWitt, who dispenses his bon mots with the steel-tipped venom of a would-be performer. Sheila Reid as a witty dresser, Julian Ovenden as a fraught director and Rhashan Stone as a gullible playwright lend good support but, in the end, the show remains a clever, mixed-media hybrid that never achieves the emotional pull of first-rate drama.

Source: The Guardian
Keyword: All About Eve review – classic Hollywood updated with technical wizardry | Stage

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