Evita – 1 July 2006, London

It is about 15 years since I have seen Evita on stage so I came to this production with distant memories of a very stark staging for the show from the late 80s. This production is very different visually and I really like it. Dusty stone walls cover the floor and provide a times a backdrop to the stage. On each side of the stage there are two balconies with a stone staircase winding up the front of one of them. The stone tunnels at the back of the stage give the opportunity for very effective back lighting. The set, costumes and choreography really give the show that latin amercian feeling from the start.

Che has now been returned to the role of narrator rather than actually Che Guevera and this works really well. He can fit into every scene and interact with all the characters with ease and at the same time comment to the audience. In a way the show is led by Che and the side of Eva we see is the side Che wants us to see.

The structure of the written show itself only allows for a steady start with death and grief. ‘Oh What a circus’ is the confirmation of Che’s character to the audience as the cynical and unmoving member of the Argentinean population – who finds the level of grief of the people hard to understand. Once time is turned back to Eva’s start does the life of her story begin with a energetic ‘Buenos Aires’. The show has a number of simple staging ideas which are very effective and one of these was the contrast between the country and the city and viewing people crossing the stage through an archway conveys the contrast of the busy Buenos Aires with her home town.

The following dance scene quickly showed that Magaldi had been used and served his purpose for as he danced with Eva her eyes were always elsewhere. The sequence as her lovers came and went was well staged as each departed the next one with even better presents could be seen on the balcony above.

‘The art of the possible’ focuses on 5 military leaders as they pace around in a circle watching both their front and back to see who was stalking them and who they were watching. Each one, in turn, is gradually usurped by another in the form of a hand to hand contest of strength – similar in a way to judo, getting your opponent off guard in order to conquer them. In this as Peron faces the final person he appears to lose the fight and issues a white handkerchief only to then finish off his opponent when his back is turned. In one gesture Peron’s character is set.

The meeting of Peron and Eva at the charity concert sets the power balance for them as Eva remains in total control of the relationship, leading him on and then making it clear this is not a one night stand. She literally gets him into lust as she wraps herself around him and seductively climbs the stairs. His mistress goes unnoticed by him and is unceremoniously removed by Eva.

In ‘Peron’s latest flame’ Peron and Eva sit in a table at the centre of the stage as the upper class and military are inflamed by this woman and the thoughts of the individual groups are well choreographed. Amongst all this Che adds in comments to build up the antagonism of these groups to Eva yet even he is unable to succeed as she is accepted.

During ‘A New Argentina’ Peron’s’ morals are again shown as the people are seen increasing their support for Peron and amongst them he talks of the tediousness of having to be elected. He is then seen to have the elections rigged.

The balcony scene is famous from the show and here it is depicted in the familiar manner. What is interesting in this scene is that it shows who the people have really voted as the cries change from Peron to Evita. Peron and Eva hold their hands up in triumph, the cynical Che joins in the chant of Peron but this is soon taken over by Evita and at that moment Peron’s face registers his understanding of the situation and stands back realising that Evita is the only reason he is where he is.

For me ‘High Flying Adored’ is not just Che commenting on Eva’s character but it is as if they are the words in her head she heard form her critics. Her response is therefore not at Che but all of those who dare to speak out. He may be visible on the stage but h is not in the scene. The staging of the Rainbow Tour was simple – 7 large trunks upon which Eva stood on as she greeted the heads of Europe. This allowed a slick change into the money kept rolling out as it was all contained in the suitcases.

The purity of a child’s voice hits the right chord as Eva is obviously seen as a saint, a question which Peron later throws back at her as she insists on going Vice president. The ‘Waltz for Che and Eva’ is very minor in sound and confrontational in feel. Che turns Eva around the room in sharp turns, with total command of the situation. At the end a final turn leaves her on the floor, Che having made his point. The end has begun and at this point Eva contemplates to Peron that ‘You must love me’, not as a command but a statement. He knows she is dying, she knows she is dying but won’t accept it and in an argument Peron shouts this at her but relents and agrees she shall stand as vice president only for her to collapse as her illness takes hold.

Peron know she is the people’s person as he tells the military leaders in ‘She’s a diamond’ but he knows that she has kept him in his position.

As she finally succumbs a bed appears is in the middle of the stage and her life moves around her, glimpses of her past. This is really well staged as it gives those hints of her life yet as the ensemble dance around the bed it finally turns around and is empty. A flag is drawn across the bed and from the balcony above the spirit of Eva watches over as people come to see her lying in state. Che and peron walk up either side of the bed and as they disappear into the shadows the lights come down briefly showing Eva in an ethereal light against the balcony window.

Elena Roger is tiny but gave a great energetic performance. She developed Eva well from the young girl to the president’s wife and. She had a great stage presence, great dancer and conveyed the emotions of Eva excellently. She had a good chemistry Philip Quast and Matt Rawle. Her voice is not a belting voice and so didn’t always fill the theatre but this didn’t detract from her performance. Her accent didn’t always make the words easy to hear, it gave an authenticity to her role.

Philip Quast was excellent as Peron. Looking a giant in comparison to Eva but he conveyed the character of Peron very well from the man in love with Eva to the man who would stop at nothing devious to achieve his goal. He is able to convey Peron’s thoughts and character with a mere facial expression or gesture, he has a very readable face.

Matt Rawle was excellent as Che, constantly watching and observing Eva’s life. He is a very watchable performer and again is someone who can convey the characters thoughts with a gesture or expression. He did real justice to the singing of the role.

The only other two named characters are the Mistress played by Lorna Want, who sang a beautiful ‘Another suitcase’ and Magaldi played by Gary Milner who was suitable sleazy.

The company gave great support, playing a huge array of characters with energy, interest and conviction. The singing was excellent and very powerful in the big ensemble numbers but these were nicely contrasted with the quieter moments. The dancing was spot on, energetic and visually a treat to watch. The staging of numbers such as Buenos Aires, A New Argentina and Peron’s Latest flame are performers with a great precision and simple but effective staging. All in all an excellent production and one I would make a welcome return to.

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