Review – Evita, Regent’s Park

Wednesday 14 August 2019

A jobbing actress who finds global fame and VIP status by marrying a person who holds a position of national significance?

A woman who has special interests in charitable deeds and spouting political thoughts but becomes something of a fashion icon in the process and also the target of accusations of hypocrisy?

If the opportunity had been around there’s no doubt Eva Perón would have opened an Instagram account.

This is Jamie Lloyd‘s radical reinvention of Evita the Andrew Lloyd Webber / Tim Rice musical famous for being one of Hal Prince’s smash hits and giving Elaine Paige a (very short) leg up into musical theatre history.

Largely eschewing high-fashion and that iconic big dress and blonde wig we first encounter Samantha Pauly‘s Eva as a waif dressed in white slip and sneakers resembling a reject from a girl band whilst crawling up the stairs at her own funeral. Maybe she’s in search of that Instagram account? Meanwhile Trent Saunders struts and postures as a sulky Che who has sought inspiration from the mood board of Russel Brand.

Soutra Gilmour’s set of bleachers seating is topped off with the rather excellent on-stage band partially obscured by enormous rusting letters spelling out the title of the show. These are a helpful reminder to us older members of the audience and also serve as an aid to anyone else who might stumble into the auditorium inadvertently.

Microphones are held concert-style as in the Park’s terrific production of Jesus Christ Superstar and if you have Phil’s phobia for on-stage balloonery we must warn you that inflated rubber figures throughout. Colour-schemed to match Argentina’s flag and occasionally other world flags they are used as metaphors and plot points. A lot. Many are punctured at significant moments. Some are filled to shower the cast with ticker tape upon bursting. An assassin balloon-puncturer dressed in a conical bra suggests a nod to Madonna who just happened to star in the film version of the musical. At one point Che/Brand is stripped to his underpants and not so much tarred and feathered as paint-balled and ticker-taped.

It all sounds rather dreadful doesn’t it? Strangely it’s not. Ok, well bits of it don’t work but much of this works rather well. Some of it works very well. Some moments are stunning; the opening scene with black smoke flares and confetti cannons showering the audience is aided by the show’s notes that the “paper effects used during the production are biodegradable”. Phew. Greta Thunberg can rest easily on her yacht.

Act 2’s “And the Money Kept Rolling In (And Out)” is a showstopper and Fabian Aloise’s choreography performed by a hard-grafting ensemble dazzles despite the confines of the broad but tricky set. The restricted colour palette and Jon Clark’s – sometimes too blinding – lighting adds to the stylish look. Ok, spraying Eva’s white slip with paint doesn’t quite work and the weird meta use of T-shirts is odd. But ahem, the balloons are clever and effective. That’s a line we thought we’d never have to write.

The three imported leads Pauley, Sauders and Ektor Rivera, who as Perón, seems to have risen to power on his good looks rather than his authority are decent enough but none stand out. Pauley should cut out the knowing winks. All are eclipsed vocally by Adam Pearce as Augustín Magaldi and Frances Mayli McCann who as Peron’s mistress has possibly the show’s best number “Another Suitcase in Another Hall”.

So what happens now? Life beyond this park we suspect.

Rating

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