All About Eve
Noel Coward Theatre, London ★★★✩✩
BECAUSE they are playing two actresses fuelled by ambition and narcissism, you could argue that Lily James and Gillian Anderson are being brutally honest about their profession and, possibly, even themselves.
In director Ivo van Hove’s stylish and hi-tech adaptation of the 1950 classic movie, Anderson plays the Bette Davis role of theatre star Margot Channing, into whose life her biggest fan — James’s Eve — inveigles herself as a kind of loyal helper.
In the case of Anderson’s Margot, the unflattering ego that can lie behind star quality shows itself as tantrums fuelled by alcohol, though mostly by a fact that stalks her like a curse: she cannot go on playing 30-year-olds at the age of (actually an amazing-looking) 50.
That this unjustly weighs more heavily on women than men, such as Margot’s dashing director boyfriend (Julian Ovenden), and on female stars more than anyone, is conveyed in a scene of blood-chilling horror as special effects temporarily accelerate Margot’s ageing process.
Meanwhile, the ego in James’s Eve first appears as a sinister glint of malice that plays over her butter-wouldn’t-melt innocence. It’s only visible because of the live video feeds that Hove uses like an access-all-areas pass. It gets us into scenes behind Jan Versweyveld’s set but also behind the visage of the show’s stars.
Yet although the lengths to which people go to find fame is a tale for our times, the stakes here never feel very high. True, there is much to recommend, PJ Harvey’s sinewy score for one, and Anderson is witty and sardonic. It is also much more interesting that James’s Eve uses powers of persuasion to achieve her ambition instead of the more predictable stiletto of sex. But the evening has little drama going for it and not much more tension than a collapsed washing line.