Evita Finally Comes Of Age At Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Evita, Open Air Theatre ★★★★☆

Evita Finally Comes Of Age At Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre Evita, Open Air Theatre 4

At last, someone has laid to rest the sugary ghost of Elaine Paige. Jamie Lloyd’s stripped-back Evita at the Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park boasts a metallic modernity. A rawness and street style brings you closer, if not to ‘the heart of Perón’, then to the brawling power grab that saw him first elected as President of Argentina in 1946.

On a cold grey flight of Odessa-style steps by designer Soutra Gilmour, with blinding lights beaming behind them, the fantastic ensemble works up a sequence of storms in its production numbers, sharply choreographed by Fabian Aloise, avoiding both tango clichés and military marching.

Samantha Pauley’s Eva spends the show onstage in her underwear or a silk slip, raven hair cascading over her shoulders, as she fixes her gaze firmly on the handsome soldier and starts her inexorable social climb.

The band — walled up behind welded letters spelling out EVITA — relishes the orchestrations, and the big numbers come over with both bravura and finesse. Harmonies are clear and balanced despite their pop video energy.  Don’t Cry for Me — incidentally the actual words carved on Eva’s tomb in Recoleta Cemetery — is neatly redeemed from its sentimental anthem status by Pauley’s fresh and understated rendition.

‘They fired those cannon, sang lamentation’ go the lyrics, religiously underlined with explosive pyrotechnics, showering the audience with confetti, and filling the space with coloured smoke.

Up to the interval, you’re fully caught up with the rise and rise of Eva, the romance with Perón, and as Che Guevara — in a magnificent London debut played like a mixture of Jesus and Russell Brand — Trent Saunders’ sardonic observations of the populist movement.

Afterwards, when Eva’s health deteriorates and the politics fall apart, the relentlessly through-sung lyrics struggle to keep up and you might wonder if it’s time to scrap Rice and Lloyd Webber’s operatic pretensions from 1978 and swap the recitative for some sharper script to move the show along more briskly.

Eva’s actual success was to rid Argentina of the foreign yoke, and in the final populist celebrations with turquoise and white balloons and T-shirts you’re fleetingly amused that the Argentine national colours are also those of the Brexit Party.

Fortunately, Ektor Rivera as an atypically youthful Perón, is much more handsome than Nigel Farage.

Evita, Open Air Theatre, Outer Circle, The Regent’s Park, NW1.  Tickets £25-£65, until 21 September 2019.

Last Updated 09 August 2019