Lily James is striking in van Hove’s cinematic but slow-burning production – ★★★
Be in no doubt that the Belgian theatre director is in his element when directing classic films for a 21st century audience. Following on from the sensational National Theatre production of Paddy Chayefsky’s Network, van Hove joins forces once again with set designer Jan Versweyveld for a somewhat underwhelming revival of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve.
The story of power players follows veteran actress Margo Channing (Gillian Anderson) and obsessed fan Eve Harrington (James) in what is meant to be an eerie and thought-provoking modern refresh at a time when celebrity and fan culture continues to be scrutinised.
As such, explorations of ageing, journalism and loving an individual’s fame rather than their personality are all intriguing points raised, yet fail to make a significant impact under the production’s slow pacing, with drawn-out scenes, dull scripting and some stiff performances all contributing to a sense of underwhelming mediocrity.
The star-studded company either accentuate the numbing tone of the production, or provide some much needed energy. Anderson plays a moaning, disillusioned Channing tired of the world of celebrity with a certain dryness. Considering the character itself, it’s no doubt deliberate, but only staggers the play’s momentum and causes unnecessary confusion.
So it falls to Margo’s close friend Karen (A Very English Scandal‘s Monica Dolan) to provide most of the exposition which sets the narrative back on track. Dolan’s speeches to the audience come with a sense of elegance and eccentricity, while her interactions with other characters are spoken with sensitivity, in a role which more than justifies her recent Olivier nomination for Best Supporting Actress.
For a show all about her, Eve (James) certainly steals it. The Mamma Mia star is mystifying with eerily raw emotion. While Margo’s decline does little to evoke a response – save for a potent heart-to-heart between her and Karen in a car – James’ emotive pursuit of her end goal makes for a fascinating spectacle.
It rounds off full-circle at the end of the two-hour long production, in a moment which should have been a satisfying and haunting conclusion. While van Hove directs with his usual multimedia and technical brilliance, it can only go so far to redeem a stalling and disappointing adaptation.
All About Eve is now playing at the Nöel Coward Theatre until 11 May.
Production Images: Jan Versweyveld.