Review - All About Eve starring Gillian Anderson and Lily James at the Noel Coward Theatre
Another opening night in the West End, and two exciting talents hit the stage in Gillian Anderson and Lily James. But as Ivo van Hove’s hotly-anticipated adaptation of All About Eve opens at the Noel Coward, perhaps it pulls back the curtain and reveals a thing or two about power, age and the stage.
Based on the 1950 film by Joseph L Mankiewicz - which in turn is based on an earlier play by Mary Orr - it’s a true Broadway story. Eve Harington (James) arrives at the stage door, fresh from seeing the brilliant Margo Channing (Anderson) take her bow for the eighth time this week. Having been invited into the dressing room, her endearing nature lands her a job as Channing’s assistant, but alarm bells ring as the reasons behind her obsessions become clear.
As Eve imposes herself on Channing’s life, the elder is haunted by the pressures of her age as she is usurped by the younger actress. Eve’s pulled the strings and landed herself in powerful positions – she’s transformed from fantasising while wearing Margo’s outfits backstage, to living them out in reality as her understudy. But this story reminds us, whenever you think you’re at the top, there will be someone towering over you, pulling your strings.
Van Hove employs a few of his trademarks here, including the integral use of video to tell the story, mostly projected above the set and across the entire wide stage. Chris Bartlett’s cinematography is simply stunning; the movement, colour and a particular jaw-dropping special effect which wouldn’t look out of place in a high-budget indie film. Though while there aren’t quite as many roaming camera operators as we saw in Network at the National, it does become frustrating as scenes take place in windowless boxes at the back of the stage, for only the camera to see.
Played on Jan Versweyveld’s deep box set on the long Noel Coward stage, director van Hove has Eve always lurking in the backstage backdrop that surrounds the action. Listening for a secret to share, ready to step in and steal the limelight. Whenever Margo lets her guard down, Eve is ready and waiting to get what she wants, such is the nature of the business.
Anderson and James represent the ‘fire and music’ of youth that Margo believes she is using. Anderson’s enigmatic performance is captivating. A mostly delicate performance of a woman coming to terms with the fact she isn’t who she used to be, while we only get a fleeting glimpse into the deranged side of James’ Eve.
As Channing’s friend and the play’s narrator Karen, Monica Dolan brings touch of comedy, while Stanley Townsend brings wisdom as critic Addison DeWitt.
There’s music by Mercury Prize winner PJ Harvey. Two songs performed by each of the leads beside a piano, a mirror image of each other. As beautiful as they sounded, stripped back and mellow, they don’t add much to our understanding of the characters.
There’s a great story under this play, one about deception, power, age and acting. It’s just a shame that some of the best acting in the play happens in a box on the stage, and we only witness it through a lens. It detaches the audience from the story, and teeters on the edge of losing them. There aren’t many twists and turns to keep you guessing, nor is there much opportunity for a standout performance from this brilliant cast. For a play about the theatre, there isn’t much drama to All About Eve.
All About Eve tickets are available now.
"This is a show that reeks of chic. It stars Gillian Anderson and Lily James. It is adapted and directed by the Belgian wizard Ivo van Hove from a classic 1950 movie by Joseph Mankiewicz. It mixes live action and film with technical finesse. Yet, for all its skill, I found myself admiring its cleverness more than relishing its drama."
Michael Billington, The Guardian, ★★★
"While the original script’s best lines are preserved, this reinterpretation misses a lot of its humour, charm and bite. It’s clever and technically accomplished, but between its bracing opening and absorbing final section it doesn't have enough spark."
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard, ★★★
"The scene in which Addison uses his power and influence to claim ownership of Eve, a scene which could have felt appallingly resonant, is made to feel faintly mechanical. Good as Anderson and Dolan are – and they’re very good – that’s true of the whole thing."
Natasha Tripney, The Stage, ★★★
"Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a boring night."
Dominic Maxwell, The Times, ★★
"Yes, this is event theatre. It has Gillian Anderson and Lily James and it’s as cool as chilblains. It will be the talk of the chi-chi set. It will probably make a mint for its fashion-driven producers. But is it maybe just a little bloodless? I’m not sure I cared remotely about the characters."
Quentin Letts, Daily Mail, ★★★★
"All About Eve works terrifically, in part because the cast and script are excellent, in part because Van Hove’s usual box of live video tricks is so apt for a story that always felt half of film, half of theatre."
Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out, ★★★★