Theatrical biographies, especially of still living people, need to give you more than you could get than by meeting them, reading a newspaper interview, or their own autobiographies. In this new show, Simon McBurney and his co-director and co-adaptor James Yeatman try to turn the undeniably fascinating life story of Robert Evans, now 86, into a multi-media, multi-sensory experience.
Evans, a one-time film actor turned major Hollywood player and huckster who at one point headed up Paramount Studios and was responsible for such hits as The Godfather, Rosemary's Baby, Love Story and Chinatown, has had an eventful life on screen as well off it. Trouble is, this play tries to put his off-screen life on screen too. It's staged in a style that owes much to cinema, with many scenes filmed live and projected back to us. It also name-drops endlessly, with such film personalities as Norma Shearer, Ernest Hemingway, Ava Gardner, Roman Polanski, Francis Ford Coppola, Marlon Brando, Ali McGraw, Steve McQueen and Faye Dunaway all variously impersonated -- as well as Henry Kissinger, thus establishing Evans's connections to the top echelons of politics as well, that meant that Kissinger attended the New York premiere of The Godfather.
But all this tittle-tattle only goes so far -- you'd be better off reading a film gossip website if that's what you're after -- and I'd rather be watching a real, living breathing play than an exercise in conceptual hagiography.
Within the limitations imposed by the concept, a cast of mostly American actors, joined by two British ones, impersonate Evans and the rest of the Hollywood pack with occasional wit and observation.
But it is disconcerting to notice that they have the script unfolding on front of them, projected onto a screen at the front of the circle, which we only notice because the reflective glass panels of Anna Fleischle's set make them all too visible to us. The play be a hall of Hollywood mirrors, but does the set need to be one, too?