All About Eve is known to be a fantastic film. Released in 1950, Bette Davis played an ageing stage star under siege from a manipulative aspiring actress. You watch as her paranoia spills across the screen in awe of such acting excellence.
This was recently adapted for the stage, starring Gillian Anderson (X-Files, Sex Education) and Lily James (Cinderella, Mamma Mia 2) the two have captivated and had audiences queuing outside the Noel Coward Theatre hoping to get tickets. The run has just finished, unfortunately, but I was lucky enough to see this fantastic piece of theatre.
Written in a very different era, ‘All About Eve’ is not totally unproblematic in its depiction of female ambition and its relationship to female bodies. But it is still potent, and apt, and you can see why it appealed to Belgian director Ivo Hove. Who has a reputation for dividing audiences and critics. Now that the reviews are in, (and I’ve read many) All About Eve seems to be no different, with some praising his technical wizardry and others saying it had little impact. From my perspective, sitting front row on the balcony, the wizardry of the set and stage design was a little lost. As I dipped my head to see the back of the stage, all I could think was, “why isn’t this being performed at the National?” a theatre in which, no matter where you sit, you can see everything the stage has to offer.
In this piece there is a lot going on with multiple screens and scenes being performed toward the back of the stage, which is lost to those sitting on the upper levels. Therefore, it was more a distraction from the actors than complimenting their performances.
Screens and technology being used in the theatre is futuristic and I have seen work done like it before (Network, which was played at the National) and that worked well in helping drive the story along. This however, there needed to be more space on stage.
The use of a mirror in the middle of the stage, which held a camera so on the screens the audience could see what the mirror was seeing was a great way to bring the actors into the audience without breaking the fourth wall. It did help is fully seeing their reactions and drove the scenes along nicely.
Margo (Anderson) is an actor who is both brilliant and ageing – and her age and ability are constantly being made manifest, at first with simple close-ups in the mirror, later with surreal pre-recorded sequences, including one in which she ages into a screaming elderly woman. These helped slow the pace down of the piece and allow the audience to fully immerse themselves into the piece.
This really wasn’t an adaptation as it was pretty much word for word to the original film and so was the acting. Gillian Anderson is a star; she is fabulous and her portray of being drunk was outstandingly hilarious. I just wished she had taken the role more into her own, it felt as thought she had studied Bette Davies and copied her to a T. (I don’t blame her, she did it best, a tough act to follow) Lily James was a fantastic surprise. I saw Lily on stage in Romeo and Juliette and her performance was hard to hear and she was lost on stage. In this production, however, she shone like the brightest star and really took that role and made it her own. Strong, passionate, that little mousy girl in the trench coat held the audience’s attention and gained a standing ovation.
The technology trickery clearly won’t be for everyone, but there’s something pleasing about that. That the theatre is still controversial and ever-changing. Whatever the case, audiences were coming to see Gillian Anderson’s’ face, and that is not disappointing.
Very well done to all involved, it was a great performance.