Gillian Anderson? Lily James? Nah, The Real Star Of All About Eve Is The Script

All About Eve, Noel Coward Theatre ★★★☆☆

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Gillian Anderson? Lily James? Nah, The Real Star Of All About Eve Is The Script All About Eve, Noel Coward Theatre 3
Gillian Anderson and Lily James star. Image: Jan Versweyveld

"Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night!" All About Eve is a smorgasbord of such tasty morsels — dished up like dialogue canapés, and washed down with a torrent of champagne-stoked contretemps.

The short story-turned-radio-play-turned-Oscar sweeping movie, is now a West End show — with Gillian Anderson as ageing star Margot Channing, and Lily James slipping into the cold skin of Eve Harrington, Channing's butter-wouldn't-melt fan with a plan.

In Ivo van Hove's staging, the lead's self-pitying monologues do trundle on (and we don't recall Bette Davis quite so emphatically spewing into the toilet). Still, Anderson is magnetic as the paranoid star, both fragile and — let's face it — a bit of a narcissistic dick. She relishes her lines too, delivering each with yesteryear Hollywood gusto.

As Channing blubs into her martini, a screen above the stage shows Eve scheming in an off-stage kitchen. This split-screen staging cleverly lets plot play alongside subplot, and adds a movie-like dimension. It's probably used a bit too zealously (we already mentioned the vom scene). A camera sunk into the dressing mirror is used to skin-crawling effect, and is surely a critique on the all-seeing eye of 21st century fame.

Image: Jan Versweyveld

James' obsequious-to-the-point-of-sickly understudy is a slow-burn. You know pretty sharpish something's awry, but it takes two hours for every pretty layer to be stripped off. When she eventually flares up in her true colours — spatting with rakish critic Addison DeWitt (Stanley Townsend) — you can't take your eyes off it.

Though the two Hollywood leads will rightly snatch in audiences, the real star here is the writing. All About Eve is a modern fable about the trappings of showbiz, which glints with diamond-sharp, noir-ish dialogue. "The only thing I ordered by mistake is the guests," snaps Channing at a gin party. It's good to see women get all the zingers, maybe surprising, given the script's been around 70 years.

As for that ending: it's one of the most delicious twists in stage and screen history. Careful what you wish for, kids.

All About Eve, Noel Coward Theatre, until 11 May 2019.

Last Updated 14 February 2019