All About Eve – Noel Coward Theatre, London

Adaptor and Director: Ivo van Hove

Reviewer: Karl O’Doherty

Two big stories compete for space in this exciting interpretation of a classic. Both are brought to life vividly, though don’t seem to depend on each other.

All About Eve feels like two plays with the same characters. Eve turns up at the stage door of Margot Channing’s playhouse every night the famous, glamorous actress performs. Confessing an obsession with the lady’s art, she meets and quickly becomes part of her inner circle – making herself indispensable to the theatrical circle around Margot. What is the natural progression of a story where an unknown person shows up with an obsession? Safe to say all does not run smoothly, nor does it turn out particularly well for Eve. And while this is playing out, we have a show about an ageing actress, undeniably a star, who is paranoid about her age, her personality, position, everything, and needs to learn the skill of true self-confidence.

On one level it’s great to have a play’s emotional drivers laid out so clearly. There’s no mistaking what’s happening on stage (or screen) which makes it engaging and lends it a pace that well supports a two-hour runtime without an interval. Visually, Jan Versweyveld’s set design (versatile and flipping between bedroom, dressing room and stage – all set within a detailed mock-up of a theatre’s backstage area) is superb and includes a camera crew to show the audience action happening in areas of the stage we normally would not be able to see. It mixes live, recorded and in-person action and perspectives (characters on stage dwarfed by those on a cinema size screen above them) to show multiple streams of action at once and the effect is highly enjoyable. Although, the giant photos of Margot which are swapped out for Eve are a little heavy-handed.

What slows it a little is the number of characters that are present but seemingly do little to drive the story forward. It’s a nice effect to show the pace and chaos of the theatrical life, but we’re left wondering why they’re given such prominence, and then where do they go? Similarly, the songs from Eve and Margot – they’re well sung of course, but don’t add much to the overall. The house-party scene lasts an uncomfortably long time.

As the two leads, Gillian Anderson as Margot and Lily James as the false ingénue Eve Harrington are extremely charismatic. Full of bite and vigour, they circle like dangerous cats, swiping and clawing at the other throughout and completely capture the tension within their relationship. Supported excellently, there’s not a bum note in the whole set of performances.

It feels like the sort of play that an audience can take many different interpretations from. A story about aging, about predatory actresses, about ambition, about fraud and honour. Really it’s good for all of these – genuinely multifaceted, a visual blast and a showcase of genuine entertaining talent.

Runs until 10 May 2019 | Image: Jan Versweyveld

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The Reviews Hub London is under the acting editorship of Richard Maguire. The Reviews Hub was set up in 2007. Our mission is to provide the most in-depth, nationwide arts coverage online.

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