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Review: Gillian Anderson and Lily James in All About Eve, Noel Coward Theatre - likes and dislikes

Anderson just oozes sexiness, carrying a confidence and slight aloofness that both draws people to her and pushes them away

All about eve poster

Ivo van Hove's production and stage adaptation of the film All About Eve is trademark van Hove and that is a good and bad thing. 

The play tells the story of stage star Margo Channing (Gillian Anderson) who is at the height of fame, has parts written for her, a loving, director boyfriend (Julian Ovenden) and loyal friends. 

But when a young fan, Eve (Lily James), turns up at the stage door and inveigles her way into Margo's life and inner circle, it doesn't bring out the best for either.

Filming on stage

Van Hove utilises live film with both fixed cameras  - in a dressing table mirror - and handheld to follow the action hidden from audience view, the footage projected on screens above the stage. 

The dressing table is a permanent feature of the set regardless of where the action moves, a symbol of the power and importance placed on women's looks and youthfulness in showbusiness.

We get close up footage of Margo, a chance to see emotion play out on her face - Gillian Anderson is really superb but more of that later.

The camera roves to hidden corners such as Margo's bathroom where people have a habit of 'hanging out'.

Hidden gatherings and isolation

Margo is absent from these hidden gatherings reflecting how she has isolated herself from those she loves and who love her. 

There is a party scene when it feels like everyone has crowded into Margo's bathroom which is almost comical and I'm not sure whether it is the fault of the set design or the restrictions of working in an old West End Theatre or the camera angles.

All About Eve starring Gillian Anderson and Lily James. Photo: James C Perou

One thing that doesn't seem to have been taken properly into consideration is the restricted view for those sitting to the side in the Royal Circle and above.

The primary set is Margo's apartment/dressing room at the theatre, the walls rising at times to reveal a backstage area.  Her bed is to one side and completely obscured if you have seats on the same side of the stage. The lighting rigs don't help.

It made me wonder whether van Hove's work is better suited to modern stages such as the Barbican or Lyttelton or Young Vic which he's used previously.

Danger of a 'by numbers' production

And the problem with having a trademark style, as Poly pointed out afterwards, is productions are in danger of becoming 'by numbers'. 

Elements of this style of staging worked really well for All About Eve but if you have seen a few 'van Hoves' then aside from one video visual effect - albeit a stunning one - there is nothing really new about it.

Putting that to one side, the play has cleverly contrasting tensions; the routine of life backstage, a measured and steady pace against the bite and intricacy of the dialogue and narrative journey.

Sexiness and aloofness

Anderson just oozes sexiness, carrying a confidence and slight aloofness that both draws people to her and pushes them away.

I haven't seen the film on which the play is based which made for some delicious plot surprises.

Both Eve and Margo are complex, richly drawn characters - jealous, ambitious, sensitive, powerful and fragile.

Together with Margo's friend Karen (Monica Dolan), it is three women who are front and centre, the driving force with men on the periphery which is refreshing to see.

Great play, great performances but not sure the staging always makes a positive contribution so it's getting ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ from me.

It is 2 hours without an interval and is at the Noel Coward Theatre until 11 May.

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