Review: Sunset Boulevard, London Coliseum

“Has there ever been a moment
With so much to live 

Dammit – one of the key rationales behind my Broadway blowout last winter was seeing actors I didn’t think I’d otherwise have the chance to see in the West End, Glenn Close being chief among them and thus I forked out a pretty penny to see her in Edward Albee’s A Delicate Balance. So naturally her return to these shores was announced a few months later with a reprisal of her Tony Award-winning performance as Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard.

And as with last year’s Sweeney Todd here at the Coliseum too, director Lonny Price and the ENO have returned to the semi-staged format which allows them to mount a bare-bones production and still charge full whack for tickets, prices thus go up to £150. I understand that money has to be made, especially for an organisation in as perilous a position as theirs and they say at least 400 tickets at every performance is available at £25 or under (altitude training not provided though…)
Gripes aside, is it the “theatrical event of the year” that the advertising campaign has rather rashly claimed? Well yes and no. It certainly has the sense of being a major event, the roar from the audience as Close took to the stage for the first time was like nothing I’ve heard in a theatre before, even if the staircase from which she descends ain’t all that. And she seizes the role with all the aplomb of an actor in full command of every inch of her talent and deploying it to utterly devastating effect.

Michael Xavier pairs up well with her as Joe Gillis, the young(ish) screenwriter who Desmond decides will be the ideal springboard from which to relaunch her faded movie career – his eye-popping attire for the title track will certainly be mentioned again later in the year (prays for production shots ;-)) – but not having seen the show before, I found myself a little unsure as to the true motivations of the character, not for Xavier’s lack of trying but a weakness in the writing (Don Black and Christopher Hampton) and possibly direction.

He does sound like a dream though, as does Siobhan Dillon as his love interest Betty, and their ‘Too Much In Love To Care’ is just lovely, especially given what’s to come. The chorus of familiar West End faces do a good job, conductor Michael Reed keeps the lush orchestrations on the right side of lavish (no mean feat with a classy 51 piece orchestra) and elements of James Noone’s design really work well (ie the car) where as others don’t (ie the floating man).

It is all about Close in the end though and in delivering the kind of magisterial performance that recognises and cleverly exploits any frailties she may possess for maximum emotional impact, and which will undoubtedly live long in the memory, ensures this semi-staged Sunset Boulevard more than semi-delivers.

Running time: 2 hours 20 minutes (with interval)
Booking until 7th May

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