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A CurtainUp London Review
All About Eve

"Fasten Your seat belts. This is going to be a bumpy ride."
— Margo Channing
All About Eve
Gillian Anderson as Margo and Lily James as Eve Franz
(Photo: Jan Versweyveld)
Ivo van Hove is a director whose originality is impressive. The resulting work can be outstanding and memorable as in his production of Network with Brian Cranston as the rebellious news reader or as turgid as Obsession with Jude Law. As with Network, London has the pleasure of seeing first his take on the 1950 film All About Eve with Gillian Anderson as the older actress Margo Channing and Lily James as the aspiring Eve Harrington.

Van Hove's artistry for this production blends stage and film with several cameras onstage. Stanley Townsend, as theatre critic Addison De Witt, who has the most gorgeous deep voice on the English stage, sets the scene for us with video, the width of the stage and showing the theatre behind the scenes.It is an exciting and refreshing view of backstage with a witty narrative. "I am as essential to the theatre as ants are to a picnic," he says.

Joseph Mankiewicz was the director and writer of the seventy years ago film and his dialogue is a delight. It is worth asking how many of today's audience will have seen the film and whether stage work should stand on its own or be compared to the original?

Karen Richards (Monica Dolan), wife of writer Lloyd Richards (Rhashan Stone), takes over the narration introducing her protegée Eve into Margo's dressing room where Birdie (Sheila Reid) is Margo's jealously loyal assistant. Eve, a sweet ingenue, has told Karen that she worships Margo Channing and has seen every performance of the current show.

Eve also imparts her tragic history on losing her husband in the navy in the war which makes Margo pay attention while Birdie makes sarcastic asides. Margo sits adjusting her makeup in the mirror and a camera centred in the mirror projects her face in close up above the stage. It is like watching both a filmed piece and a piece of staged theatre.

Enter the director, Bill Sampson (Julian Ovenden), who is in a relationship with Margo. As the set changes the furniture arrives, elegantly choreographed and the back, bare brick walls are adorned with imposing 5 feet square portraits of Margo.

Eve has become Margo's confidante and companion, displacing Birdie. While Margo is distracted Eve tries on her crinoline gown and takes a bow for an imaginary audience. We start to feel uncomfortable about the way Eve has ingratiated herself into Margo's clique and is now indispensable in Margo's life.

At the party after the show, Margo is unhappy and knocking back cocktails. The party is for Bill's birthday and Margo is starting to feel edgy about Eve. Bill and Margo argue and Bill supports Eve, and Margo delivers the famous line, "Fasten Your seat belts. This is going to be a bumpy ride." Gillian Anderson's playing of this line, with her back turned to us is rather quiet and uneventful. We watch Margo drunkenly singing "The Sandman" at the piano but above the stage, silently, all the other party goers are animatedly talking about her.

Addison takes over again after introducing his new star Claudia Caswell (Jessie Mei Li, who is sadly not a patch on Marilyn Monroe) and setting Jessie off to flirt with a producer. We follow a drunken Margo into the ladies where her head down the lavatory is recorded by a camera. I won't spoil any more of the plot as youth displaces age but it is the promised bumpy ride!

Jan Versweyveld's designs are perfection. Luxury, fur coats to be strewn on the double bed and glamour and champagne everywhere. Margo's hair is carefully pinned to fit under the wigs for her stage parts and she still looks good.

I found Gillian Anderson's performance sad as she faces up to the inevitable march of time and its impact on her career and her lover. Add her jealousy to the damage she causes. This fact and the ugly future are realised in this production by her face, aging in close up in the mirror, as her skin begins to sag and her teeth loosen and wrinkles deepen and multiply. Anderson's drunken acting is also very skilled. Lily James has an easier role but she does manage to hint early on that she might be acting in her own interests rather than Margo's.

Monica Dolan as Karen convinces with genuine motives, until she realises her part in the full implications of the deception and pays the heavy price. Stanley Townsend as Addison shows his manipulation and the ruthless side of his charm. I can't fault this cast with their believable and involving performances on a theme which has every relevance today.

All About Eve takes us back to a world where stage stardom was as important as movie stardom. I really appreciated van Hove's All About Eve which is broadcast to cinemas on NT Live on 11th April. Of course you can always hire the 1950s film, ranked 16th in the top 100 films of the 20th century.

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All About Eve
Written by Joseph L Mankiewicz
Adapted and Directed by Ivo van Hove
Starring: Gillian Anderson, Lily James, Monica Dolan, Julian Ovenden, Stanley Townsend, Rhashan Stone, Sheila Reid
With: Ian Drysdale, Tsion Harte, Jessie Mie Li, Philip Voyzey, Merric Boyd, Fejiro Emasiobi, Charles Hagerty, Chanelle Moon, Stuart Nunn, Phillipa Peak, Grace Stone, Michael Warburton
Set and Lighting Design: Jan Versweyveld
Costume Design: An D'Huys
Composer: PJ Harvey
Sound Design: Tom Gibbons
Running time: Two hour 35 minutes with an interval
Box Office: 0344 482 5138
Booking to 10th May 2019
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 14th February 2019 matinee performance at Noel Coward Theatre, St Martin's Lane, London WC2N 4AU (Tube: Leicester Square)
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