Wednesday, 30 October 2019

Evita at the Middlesbrough Theatre

Middlesbrough Theatre

Little did I know that when I saw Evita for the 11th and 12th times at Regent's Park in the Summer that my next time would be so much closer to home.

I am sure The Middlesbrough Amateur Operatic Society knew they faced an enormous challenge to stage such a famous and popular play. There are so many things that have to be right and so many ways in which to go wrong.

Having seen various productions in numerous theatres - London (six times), Newcastle (three times), York, Hull and Leeds - it was with an open mind that I took my to seat to see how well the play would translate to a much smaller venue with an amateur cast.

Indeed, the word 'amateur' usually has negative connotations but from the opening moments it was quite clear that this production was of a very high quality. The set and the costumes must have used up a lot of preparatory time and resources. This was more in the style of the traditional version, rather the minimalist approach taken in Regent's Park.

One major difference from the West End and touring version I have seen so many times is Neil Harland's more understated version of  Che, which is more in keeping with the 1996 Madonna film. The overt imagery of Che - beret, combat gear - are absent, enabling an altogether more subtle - yet still very effective - performance.

The show featured a large cast, which is always necessary for the big song and dance numbers, especially Peron's Latest Flame, the humorous high-point of the play, which shows the unfavourable reactions to Evita displayed the well-to-do and the military men.

Of course, the play will always stand or fall by the key performance. I have seen numerous people play the part of Eva Peron and some have been more successful than others. Ideally, the actress needs to display a kaleidoscope of emotions covering a very wide spectrum, while retaining a definite air of ambiguity. Certain parts of Evita's personality and motivation must be left to the opinion and imagination of the audience. The life of Eva Peron was complicated and far from black and white. I was therefore very pleased to see what Mollie Shellard was able to bring to the role with her nuanced performance hitting all the required marks.

There is a danger of Evita overpowering the other characters as she breaks the confines of the play (which is, lest we forget, an anti-Eva Peron piece) but the Waltz for Evita and Che towards the end of the second half was on this occasion allowed to develop into something more physical than is usual, with Eva and Che literally waltzing around the stage rather than merely skirting around each other.

The attention to detail was evident too, with Eva's hair turning from brown to blonde once she had started on the path to the top and with the costumes becoming more lavish after each change. Part of the stage lifted to recreate the balcony of the Casa Rosada for one of the most iconic of all scenes, the one leading up to Don't Cry For Me Argentina.

Middlesbrough's Evita definitely surpassed expectations. Very well done, everyone.

The play runs until Saturday 2 November, so catch it if you can.

Meanwhile, Evita will continue to attract attention and audiences as it was announced this week that the Regent's Park version will be relocating to London's Barbican next Summer. I hope to be there to see Evita once - or twice - again.

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