Thoughts On: Evita, Open Air Theatre

Evita-poster

Evita is hands down one of my favourite shows. I think it shows Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice at the peak of their writing, and Evita remains a show that is worth re-visiting – which Jamie Lloyd’s production proves.

The musical tracks the life of Eva Peron (Samantha Pauly) as she rises from being a young girl in rural Argentina, to being the wife of the the President/Dictator Juan Peron (Ektor Rivera), becoming supremely popular with the country’s working classes – and her untimely death at the age of 33. The musical is narrated by Che (Trent Saunders) – who pulls the audience’s attention to the darker side of the Peron’s power.

This is the fourth version of Evita I’ve seen – having seen the 2012 revival, the recent West End stop of the Kenwright tour and the film starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas – and it is probably the most unique. Soutra Gilmour’s design is incredibly stripped back, to a stacked bleacher stage and bold lettering…and that’s it. However, Lloyd and Fabian Aloise’s choreography somehow brings every scene to life – from intimate moments to the buzzy city scenes of Buenos Aires. The use of pyrotechnics is also very effective at pulling in the audience at key moments and there were particularly moments – the image of the stage at the end of ‘A New Argentina’ in Act One – that made me wish very hard for a filmed version of this production. Some of the choices made in this production may ruffle feathers amongst traditionalists – minimal costume changes, a young Peron, the placement of ‘You Must Love Me’ – but they worked incredibly well in this painfully modern look at the position of women, power and populist movements.

ektor rivera trent saunders evita

The minimal ‘dressing’ around the show puts extra emphasis on the performances on stage, and the entire cast at the Saturday matinee I saw were giving it 110%. The ensemble are excellent, with nods from me for Rodney Vubya for an almost scene-stealing exit and Amy Thornton, Alex Cardall (I think) and Mireia Mambo for some incredible dancing in ‘I’d be Surprisingly Good for You’ and ‘The Art of the Possible’ respectively.  Francis Mayli McCann is heartbreakingly good as Peron’s previous Mistress, nailing ‘Another Suitcase in Another Hall’ and the painful scene prior to this.

The trio of principals are also strong. Peron is usually played by an older actor – as he was fifteen years older than Eva in reality – however, this production has Ektor Rivera, a younger actor which shouldn’t work but does. This is a production about power – and it is clear that Rivera’s Peron is the one who really holds the cards in their relationship. Trent Saunders vocal performance as Che is really strong, and I found the choices made with his character quite interesting – as they generally linked to the darkest moments.

trent saunders sam pauly evita

When a show has the character name in the title however, and in this show in particular, much of the focus is on the actress playing Eva, and in Sam Pauly this show has a brilliant central performance. I can’t quite wrap my head around the fact that she plays the role in every show. Barely leaving the stage, Pauly has a brilliant voice which brings all of the songs to life. She exudes Eva’s slightly careless ambition in the first half, making her performance in the final 15-20 minutes of the show all the most impactful. The final scenes of this show pack a horrifying punch, and this is due in a large part to Pauly’s performance.

In case you can’t tell, I loved this, so much so that I’m going again towards the end of the run – mostly because I’m desperate to really appreciate the raved about lighting design in the dark. If you can grab a ticket before the 21st September, I really – really recommend doing so.

Amy
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new argentina evita

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