Review: All About Eve, Noël Coward Theatre

Ivo van Hove’s take on All About Eve ticks all my boxes at the Noël Coward Theatre, great work from Gillian Anderson, Lily James and a stellar Monica Dolan

“I’ll admit I may have seen better days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut”

This isn’t the production to change people’s mind about Ivo van Hove. His style is so thoroughly ingrained, his team of collaborators so deeply embedded, that you couldn’t play a drinking game watching one of his shows and stay standing. Live video feed, drink! Backstage people wandering round, drink! A moody slow rise, drink! But what you also get is an amazing calibre of actor throwing themselves headlong into the work, ever-innovative ways of using theatrical space, and the kind of emotional intensity that remains rare. Drink drink drink!

Now that we’re comfortably sloshed, I can tell you that I loved All About Eve (and I only had one G&T, honest). You’ll have to look elsewhere for critiques on how good an adaptation of Joseph L Mankiewicz’s film of the same name and Mary Orr’s play The Wisdom of Eve it is, I ain’t seen either and wanted to go into this sight unseen. What I can talk about is the startling insight offered by the actress’s-eye view, projected onto screens from a camera built into a dressing room mirror. About Gillian Anderson’s titanic performance. About Sheila Reid’s welcome return to the stage. About Monica fucking Dolan.

There’s a welcome female dominance here – the film remains the only one in Oscar history to receive four female acting nominations – and along with Lily James in the title role, it’s refreshing (and still sadly all too rare) to see the scales tipped the other way given the most recent tenants of the Noël Coward Theatre. But whilst the story of untrammelled Broadway ambition here may involve more men than The Inheritance found room for women, it offers up a wickedly fantastic roles for Dolan as pseudo-narrator Karen, best pal to star actress Margo Channing – a glacial Gillian Anderson – who has to deal with the twin threats of Lily James’ scheming up-and-comer Eve, and also the crueller onset of ageing.

And this is where the video work comes into its own, offering unsparing close-ups but also pre-recorded segments that toy with theatricality. Anderson’s Margo is full of bitter stings as she tackles the unfairness of showbiz, even society at large, but the predominant theme is the dawning of mournful acceptance, portrayed with an elegance that is beautiful to behold once it arrives. James is no less detailed in her work, a predatory presence on the edge of this world but only realising just how savage it is too late, once she’s scored what she thought was the prize. Stanley Townsend’s Addison DeWitt instrumental here in enforcing the kind of toxic power dynamic that still rings true with the influence of the likes of Harvey Weinstein and Ken Ehrlich. 

There’s a curious lack of specificity to the time period here, it’s never abundantly clear when we are. But as with A View From The Bridge, arguably it doesn’t matter. There’s a timelessness to those relationships, and to the entertainment industry’s treatment of women, that works no matter which decade after 1950 you pick. And the recurring motif of red, whether in Jan Versweyveld’s stylish design or An D’Huys classy costume work, is thematically strong. The score from PJ Harvey – a rare new face working with van Hove – is perhaps a little over-insistently used but there’s a mesmeric power to Tom Gibbons’ sound design with its ominous feel. Tremendous stuff.

Running time: 2 hours 10 minutes (without interval)
Photos: Jan Versweyveld
All About Eve is booking at the Noël Coward Theatre until 10th May

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