Review: All About Eve, Noel Coward Theatre
PUBLISHED: 14:42 15 February 2019 | UPDATED: 14:42 15 February 2019
Gillian Anderson and Lily James give stellar performances in Ivo Van Hove's reworking of the Bette Davis classic about a scheming understudy
Once again Ivo Van Hove brings his director-auteur bag of tricks to staging a cinematic classic.
But while his previous hit Network left me cold, this reworking of Joseph L Mankiewicz’ 1950 whip-smart comedy is altogether more compelling – thanks to a trio of terrific female performances.
It’s also a timely look at female friendship and rivalry, the burden of femininity and celebrity, and its exploitation by men such as arch critic Addison DeWitt – here a kind of blackmailing Judge Brack of Broadway.
Originally a play - then a film about theatre – it seems apt to see cameras scrutinising these characters and pouncing for revealing close-ups.
Jan Versweyveld’s box set, dominated by a dressing room mirror, lifts to reveal the backstage backstabbing around ageing diva Margo Channing - at one stage her reflection poignantly shows a timelapse of her wrinkling face.
Gillian Anderson’s Margot is world-weary and watchful, the kind of diva who keeps producers waiting, and in the words of good friend Karen sometimes needs ‘a good kick in the pants’.
Lily James’ ingénue Eve is the seemingly dowdy superfan who worms her way into her life, then into her career.
While possessing a luminous beauty, James is also spot on at suggesting the desperation that underpins the understudy’s two-faced, gimlet-eyed ambition.
Monica Dolan is memorable as the friend who pays the price for failing to spot Eve’s scheming.
And if Anderson lacks the smart-mouthed abrasiveness of Bette Davis, she nails the fear and vulnerability beneath Margo’s hard-bitten carapace.
The abiding revelation as she abdicates her power in favour of loving mutuality with decent husband Bill, is not one of regret but of weary relief at shrugging off the demands of femininity.
Meanwhile Eve now adored, watched, and judged, slumps on her bed as she realises the lonley burden of taking it on.