REVIEW: EVITA (Wycombe Swan Theatre) ★★

As a reviewer, I cover regional theatre as well as shows in the West End and Off-West End. It raises the question, should the same standards be applied to all shows, irrespective of location, size and budget?

I can fully appreciate the challenges of regional theatre where a production is moving to a new venue every week. The different sized auditoriums, stages and the varying acoustics must make every theatre unique and require adaptation from the cast and creatives. With top priced tickets for this show retailing at £47, I think the audience has a right to expect a high standard, which they absolutely did not get.

The sound quality in the first half was dreadful. Lucy O’Byrne as Eva could not be heard over the orchestra, apart from in the sections in which she was shrieking the lyrics. The “Buenos Aires” number in particular was extremely uncomfortable to listen to. The orchestra were obviously very competent musicians but they totally drowned out the actors.

Evita, for anyone who doesn’t know, is the story of the rise of Eva Peron from illegitimate country peasant to First Lady of Argentina as wife to the President Juan Peron. The musical, written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice, first opened in the West End in 1978 and made a star of the relatively unknown Elaine Paige. The writers used the character of Che Guevara (an Argentine national more often associated with Cuba) as narrator and moral conscience of the show, constantly challenging and questioning Eva through her unstoppable rise to the top.

Glenn Carter as Che has a beautiful theatrical singing voice; however he completely lacks the brooding, menacing traits that the character requires.

In the second half, when we finally get to properly hear Lucy O’Byrne as Eva she clearly has a great voice. Her delivery of “You Must Love Me” in particular is haunting. However she is never quite convincing as the scrappy, stop at nothing, ambitious, ruthless Eva.

The whole performance seems to have been sanitised with the rougher edges of the characters smoothed off. The battling, jousting, cental relationship of Che and Eva is non-existent.

Yet the production as a whole has some unintended rough edges that make it jarring to watch.

In my opinion, the delivery of the big number “Don’t Cry for me Argentina” is just wrong. The song is supposed to show Eva appealing to her beloved Descamisados – the workers, of whom she claims to be one, promising that she has not forsaken them despite her position. This staging has the supporting cast drinking champagne, looking up at Eva on the balcony. It is a strange choice.

During “Rainbow High” as Eva prepares for her European Tour, insisting on the highest standards from her dressers and designers, the dancers wheel on 6 full length mirrors, 2 of which are filthy and covered in streaky marks. It is a small point but it is indicative of the lack of polish (literally as well as figuratively) of this production.

Evita is a fantastic musical. I have seen a number of productions over the years and the original soundtrack with Elaine Paige and David Essex is a favourite. Unfortunately this production is a huge disappointment.

Reviewed by Emma Heath


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