This review is from August 2019. ‘Evita’ returns in June 2020, casting tba.
Forget everything you know about ‘Evita’: this one properly rocks. Gone are the romanticised shots of sun-soaked South America, sliced out are the filler numbers clogging the score and deleted is the simpering, blonde starlet. Instead, Jamie Lloyd’s production wipes the gloss off Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical, creating a pumping, sped-up ‘Evita’ edged with dirt, rust and grime.
It starts literally with a bang. Grey confetti falls like funeral ashes blasted from a cannon, marking Eva Peron’s death. From there, it’s a mass celebration of blue-and-white streamers, flares, cheerleaders and names on placards. The feel is more Maradona than Madonna, a tribute perhaps to a country England knows best through the World Cup. Or, a clever nod to the overlap between the unified chanting and colour coordination of a political rally and the behaviour inside a football stadium.
It’s a more critical portrayal of the Peróns than, for example, Alan Parker and Oliver Stone’s film provides. Yet one of the best aspects is how Samantha Pauly’s Evita owns her reputation and herself. Bounding around in a white slip dress and sneakers – the costume department definitely got the ’90s revival memo which also includes boyband braces and baggy suit pants – Pauly looks like an Insta influencer who gives no fucks about other people’s snark.
Trent Saunders’s Che-in-a-Che-T-shirt has flashes of an earnest Political Science undergrad just returned from a summer in Cuba. At times it seems like he’s just there to kill her buzz, or to almost-jealously interrupt her interactions with Colonel Perón. But the relationship between them develops into something truly fascinating. There’s the suggestion they’ve more in common than they’d like to admit – both, in very different ways, wanting to speak for the impoverished masses; both are tiny, real-life humans behind huge iconic images.
They also spark off each other like oddly paired frenemies, rolling their eyes when Evita is called a ‘slut’ or the Buenos Aires upper classes complain she’s not posh enough to join the polo club, let alone run the country. And he helps tell her discarded lovers to sling their hooks after they’ve served their purpose as stepping stones to success.
Most surprising of all, it’s also very funny in parts. ‘Funny’ in a self-aware way, but not in a manner that suggests anyone thinks they’re too cool for ‘Evita’. It’s a knowing, sideways glance at a much-loved musical that suggests nothing but respect for prior productions of it, while acknowledging that the power ballads and big dresses approach has had its day.
This is Jamie Lloyd doing what Jamie Lloyd does best: taking something a bit lumpy and trad and thwacking it into fast, furious and fun shape. And it’s not just ‘for the yoof’ showboating: pick away at the surface and there’s as much philosophising happening as in a ‘serious’ production – more, probably. Verdict: he’s Jamie Lloyded ‘Evita’, and it’s great.