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All About Eve is the latest Ivo van Hove adaptation for stage inspired by Joseph L Mankiewicz’s 20th-century fox film along with The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr. As Margo Channing finds her spotlight challenged by her biggest fan, she is forced to face her age and her identity, reflecting on her life choices and relationships. It tells the story of fading stars, life in the theatre, and Eve… because everyone knows about Eve.
Special mentions have to go to Gillan Anderson playing Margo Channing and Lily James playing Eve Harrington. Both women performed their roles outstandingly, and they were entirely believable as cunning divas fighting for a spotlight on the stage. Gillan Anderson’s changeability from glamorous actress to snide diva to the drunken mess was somehow seamless as her emotional erraticism was as much an act as her acting career. Lily James’ subtle emotional manipulation, however, was only ever mostly believable and that was precisely the point. Her act of the cute and devoted girl next door only stretched so far, as the play went on the farce started to show through. What was fascinating about both the lead women was wondering where the acting ended. As Margo questioned where her name ended, and she began after exiting the stage, she uncovered complex layers to the play’s theatrical construction. As the set mimicked a dressing room, in turn transforming into her bedroom with little change in decor, the play highlighted these complex questions of identity because if Margo Channing didn’t know when she stopped acting, then, in turn, when did Gillian Anderson start playing Margo?
The performance’s use of multimedia was excellent with cameras following the actors around into the closed spaces on stage (e.g. the kitchen and bathroom) and live streaming onto a screen hanging above the stage, so no one was ever truly alone. The play became a hybrid theatre/movie space, making comparative points to the Hollywood landscape and the modern world of social media. We knew all about Eve because her life was broadcast to an audience outside of her control.
Fundamentally, this was a play about power, and who holds power in the theatre. At the start, it seems as though the power centres around the actress as all the action filtrates through her interactions, but quickly it seems the writer Lloyd Richards (Rhashan Stone) holds power as he controls the plays themselves and who gets what parts. The director, and producer, all, in turn, get their chance to control the theatre world and by extension Margo. Ultimately, its the critic (Stanley Townsend) who holds power, because he holds the dirt on the theatre world, and his column can knowingly end an actress’s career. As the play comes to its end, and it becomes apparent that the cycle of replacing the leading lady for a younger model will continue, and that while the actors hold the stage, they can never hold power.
Overall, this piece is both timeless and timely. It’s timeless in that it speaks to the theatre world, its traditions and its on-going trends. Its clever use of set reveals that there is more to theatre than just the actors and actresses on stage and that this co-existence of stage and backstage extends outside the theatre into the lives of its inhabitants. However, its reemergence in a new production now is timely, at a time when we can step into a new social media avatar with a few clicks and in a post #MeToo era which calls the powers in Hollywood into question, is perfect timing.
All About Eve will be shown again 8th and 26th May at The Dukes Theatre. For more information, head to dukes-lancaster.org