Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre presents
Lyrics by Tim Rice
Music by Andrew Lloyd Webber
Directed by Jamie Lloyd
Open Air Theatre
2 August –21 September 2019
Review by Clive Burton
Evita was a social climber par excellence, using her looks and considerable nous to create a national icon from a poor country girl who won the hearts of a nation (Argentina) in the 40s and died of cancer in her mid-30s.
Jamie Lloyd's staging for Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre flies in the face of the many popular productions that have preceded it; less glamorous in its presentation of a down-at-heel Buenos Aires, it risks painting its protagonists in an unfavourable light by revealing their flaws more clearly than ever.
Andrew Lloyd-Webber’s highly melodic contemporary score and Tim Rice’s incisive lyrics belie the fact that both men were in their 20s when Rice proposed Evita to Lloyd-Webber and each crafts their contribution with an assurance beyond their years.
We first see Samantha Pauly's Evita in sneakers and clad in a slip, clambering up the wide concrete bleachers that comprise Soutra Gilmour’s down-at-heel set dominated by the shabby giant letters that spell out Evita’s name and conceal a sizeable band under MD Alan Williams.
We begin with a picture of a woman at the end of her life re-living her achievements as she scrambles defiantly to defeat rivals for the post of First Lady and overcomes social prejudice to catch the eye of Juan Peron, an ambitious General striving to become Argentina’s President. (The snobbish put-down ‘it’s amazing how far an actress can go in society’ speaks volumes, even today.)
This opening flashback (‘Requiem’ - reverential and hushed) is unbearably moving, with LLoyd achieving a genuinely visceral impact through pyrotechnics that spew funereal grey confetti high in the air to punch home the devastating impact of Evita's death on a distraught populace.
Ms Pauly’s stripped-back Evita is less easy to warm to than many of her predecessors in the role - her full-on delivery occasionally verges on the raucous and her often crass actions suggest the damaging character flaws revealed Greek Chorus-style by Trent Saunders’s hipsterish Che Guevara.
Anyone coming to the show for the first time will undoubtedly be gripped by Rice’s lyrics, Lloyd-Webber’s seductive score and Fabian Aloise’s angular choreography, but traditionalists will be disappointed that Evita’s iconic anthem ‘Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina’ is delivered with minimal histrionics by a unexceptional woman in silk scanties.
Yes, it emphasises how a power-hungry Evita exercises her charms as a grande horizontale - 'a cross between a fantasy of the bedroom and a Saint’ - to sleep her way to the top, but whether sacrificing one of the most iconic moments in musical theatre to score a few directorial points is worth the sacrifice remains debateable.
Traditionalists may also question the variety of accents which meander throughout this production, full-blown American for Che and Evita in stark contrast to Ektor Rivera’s gently-inflected Spanish American as Peron.
And rather than casting a burlier, older man in the role of Juan Peron (closer to historical reality and the traditional conception) Lloyd has opted to create an attractive power couple, which would certainly attract followers by the million in today’s Instagram world, but considerably diminishes the dramatic impact. Thankfully, the songs remain as glorious as ever.
Monday – Saturday @ 7.45pm (gates 6.15pm)
Thursday & Saturday @ 2.15pm (gates 12.45pm)
OPEN AIR THEATRE
Inner Cir, Westminster NW1 4NU
BOX OFFICE 0844826 4242 / www.openairtheatre.com