Review by Richard Fitt
Performance on 5th October 2023
Director: Barry Thompson
Musical Director: Kaye Tompkins
Choreography: Jacqueline Knighton & Hayley Gilbert
Producer: Elaina Waterhouse
Writers: Andrew Lloyd Webber & Tim Rice
Wow, so that’s what eighteen months of planning and rehearsals looks like! Put simply, a master class in how to choreograph and direct a very large cast to produce a great evening’s entertainment!
To start with the set itself, designed by the Director Barry Thompson was exactly what you’d imagine a small South American town to look like, with its rounded pillars and matching upper, Spanish style windows, But what was outstanding was the scenic art with which it was painted. It gave it just the right atmosphere of being slightly rundown with plenty of history behind it, using cleverly painted walls showing missing plaster and giving a slightly grubby, well-worn appearance. Great job done by Scenic Artists, Alicia Bray-Whitworth and Derek Banyard and well-constructed by Gerry Stafford, Kevin Beirne, Dave Jones, Adewale Olukotun, Andrew Sinfield, Richard West and Hamid Zarandi. It set the scene perfectly.
Lighting, by Dave Jones and Flic Jones again played a vitally important part in this show and complimented the scenery perfectly. Cued to perfection and atmospheric throughout; it really couldn’t be faulted.
Sound, by Mark Luckin unfortunately was a tale of two halves. In the first half the vocals were somewhat muffled and at times I could only follow the plot because I knew the show. The second half, and I have no idea what was adjusted at half time, if anything, was a completely different story, clarity was restored and the sound balance between band and vocals beautifully balanced and I could hear every word with perfect clarity.
The costume department, under the usual guidance of Virginia Pope, assisted by Deanne Tucker and Gill Ridley excelled themselves with kitting out whole street armies, both civilian and military. The attention to detail was particularly noticeable. I am not any kind of expert, but the military uniforms in particularly looked thoroughly Argentinian. And the great deal of thought put into the properties by Zandra Saxby, such as the little Argentinian flags the crowd waved added the icing on the cake. Meanwhile, Susan Moore and Deborah Bobka complimented the costumes with some stunning wigs for Elspeth Duffy as Ava.
Choreography by Jacqueline Knighton and Hayley Gilbert was a lot more than just setting the dance numbers. The blend between their choreography and Barry Thompson’s direction was completely seamless. Every actor was positioned exactly where they should be, and every movement accentuated the plot. It really was a masterclass in direction of a cast of nearly forty and how to use simple dance steps to perfection. The overall effect was stunning!
The band, with the familiar names of Musical Director Kaye Tompkins with Andrew Longland-Meech on Keys, Ian Judson and Andy Stewart (woodwind), Chas Hutchins/Alex McLean, Liz Schofield and John Lavell (Brass section), Richard James and Lee Wong (Guitar and Bass) and Vince Hanratty, Brendan Rayner/Mark Crooks (Drums and Percussion) were neatly tucked away in the gallery and never anything other than the usual totally professional band I’ve come to know over the years. Good job as usual guys.
Elspeth Duffy took the title role and what an excellent Eva Peron she was, great voice, super dancer and fully able to put across the complex character of this controversial historical figure. And, it was hairs on the back of the neck time with her rendition of Don’t Cry For Me. But before that we had Jorja Osbourne as a very plausible enthusiastic young Eva setting the scene to her future character. Again, perfectly cast.
The male star of this show and the glue which held it together was the fabulously confident performance of Paul Wildman as Che. His commanding presence was stamped all over this show and what a voice to go with it. Put simply, a class act.
Martin Grover as Juan Peron was no slouch in the singing and acting department either. Played with a superior dignity, his character came across as both presidential and slightly chilling, and eager to please Eva, just as you would expect.
There were some fabulously well played character parts such as Chris Craigen as Eva’s first lover, Argentinian singing star Agustin Magaldi, and Argentinian Tango dancers George Harrison and Stephanie Smith that my wife assures me wouldn’t have been out of place on the Strictly dancefloor. And the little comic scene where Eva sees off Peron’s Mistress played by Lauren Bain was a lovely poignant moment.
The ensemble of twenty-seven were an incredibly well drilled and cleverly characterised to a man and woman and the whole show because of them was a very well-oiled machine. And what a choir! The ensemble singing was absolutely sublime! Some of the costume changes were at breakneck speed and incredibly slick, it must have been organised to perfection backstage to be that good. Well done to you all. Fabulous!
So, congratulations to Director Barry Thompson, his cast and crew. I’d say that was a very productive eighteen months work which, certainly did justice to Webber’s and Rice’s masterpiece, resulting in a top draw show that will live long in the memory and for that I thank you. I’ll leave the last comment to my better half:
‘All I can say to the locals is, if you missed this show you missed a real treat – the theatres of London’s West End are over 50 miles away, but a similar quality is closer than you think.’
And with that I wholeheartedly concur!