Thursday, 24 December 2020

REVIEW: Sunset Boulevard in Concert - at Home by the Leicester Curve (Online)

There are no ushers to take me to my seat and no murmur of the audience as the house lights go down and the overture begins, yet, as I close my living room curtains, dim the lights and the title credits roll, I feel the same buzz I get sitting in a theatre while simultaneously being taken back to rainy weekends spent watching old movies with my family. Provoked by the novel restrictions placed on theatre at this time, Sunset Boulevard in Concert - at Home presented by Leicester’s Curve theatre have transformed a beloved musical into a hybrid cinema/stage experience like no other. You can’t keep this diva down!

Originally a film Noir masterpiece by Billy Wilder then adapted into the musical by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Black & Hampton followed by a further adaptation of the musical onto film, Sunset Boulevard lends itself to both screen and stage with authority. Set in 1950’s Hollywood it tells the story of struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis (Danny Mac) who finds himself entangled in the manipulative and delusional world of ‘has been’ silent film star Norma Desmond (Ria Jones). Unable to come to terms with reality Norma dreams of returning to the screen. It is dark, melodramatic and all the old Hollywood romance one could want.

This production, directed by Nikolai Foster, takes place in the empty Curve theatre. Its vacant seats feel like the skeleton of a not so long ago vibrant cultural hub and the set consists of little more than a few studio lights. With no audience the playing area becomes the entire auditorium and like ghosts of the theatre, haunting with free rein, the cast fill the space as they are supported by the evocative music of the piece expertly supervised by Stephen Brooke and a dramatic lighting design by Ben Cracknell. This combined with high-quality cinematic production values and conventions, the performance captures the anxiety, uncomfortable and tragic essence of the story. Less effective at times is the use of overlaid visuals on the live-action which distract from the powerful sparseness, however, it does give extra context and again adds to the chaos of the performance. 

Danny Mac as the antihero Joe Gillis is in particular incomprehensibly at ease with this format. Mac, no stranger to working a camera and taking ownership of a stage utilises everything he knows. Intimate moments of narration bring us into his world while his rendition of Sunset Boulevard paints an ominous painting. Molly Lynch as Betty Schaefer is perfectly matched with Mac bringing a lightness and assertiveness to her role.

Norma Desmond played by Ria Jones is in good hands Manipulative and self-involved, her power over the young writer is transparent yet inescapable. Adam Pierce as Norma’s butler Max von Mayerling is uncomfortable in the best possible way.

The innovative use of the ensemble around the empty theatre is clever and effective, however, as this new form of streamed live theatre evolves so too will the use of the ensemble.

The ‘no holding back’ approach embraced by this production of Sunset Boulevard in the face of obstacles beyond their control, is nothing short of brave and inspiring. Ultimately a powerful piece of work has been produced and through the power of live streaming it is accessible to all.

Review by Stephanie Osztreicher

Rating: ★★★★

Seat: NA | Price of Ticket: £20 per household
Blog Design by pipdig