A film within a play, based on a film adaptation of a different play. Confused? Sounds like Ivo van Hove directing. Emily Garside reviews All About Eve:

The transposing of All About Eve from film to stage is a logical and, in fact cyclical one. Based as the film was on the play The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr, this production brings things back to its beginnings. With Gillian Anderson as Margo Channing and Lily James as Eve, Ivo Van Hove’s production has the makings of an insightful observation on stardom. The combination of stage-screen and star is for a fascinating mix.

Gillian Anderson & Lily James (image courtesy of Jan Versweyveld)

It’s a slow burn, an almost muted take. The expecting histrionics and divas will be sadly disappointed. There’s an almost glacial quality to Van Hove’s direction, and with most of the audience already aware of the story he can afford to let it just be. This is Van Hove at his finest – stripping back narratives to their very essence and allowing the characters to dictate.

It could feel a little sedate, almost like the first episode of a slow burn TV drama. Instead Anderson commands Margo with an almost regal quality, often quiet and contemplative, feeling intellectual and detached. It’s a performance that certainly compels an audience to think, but not so much to feel.

Eve Noel Coward Theatre

Lily James (image courtesy of Jan

This is clearly the take Van Hove hopes for, with his use of live-feed video projection creating the detachment of a world-within-a-world. And as interesting an element as this is, it also begs the question,

Why?

Why take the world of a film, which depicts a theatre, and place it back into theatre, with film taking the majority of the text up?

The simple answer is most likely,

‘Because I’m Van Hove and I can’

But this feels more an intellectual exercise than a production. And more importantly, it feels like a waste of some potentially formidable performances.

Anderson shines through as expected. And Monica Dolan often feels like she’s forcibly breaking through everything Van Hove throws at her to connect and give the performance she does. Everyone else also does admirably. Julian Ovenden is charming and sweet, even with very little ‘air time’. Lily James is engaging as Eve and a fitting opposite number to Anderson, not an easy position to take. But it feels as though everyone is fighting against everything the director throws at them, from being crammed into shipping containers for lengthy filmed scenes, to acting to camera and audience simultaneously, to a seemingly continuous motion of props and sets. It all feels like there’s a set of intellectual purposes to every move – knowing Van Hove there is – but it also all feels a little lost.

Julian Ovenden & Gillian Anderson (image courtesy of Jan Versweyveld)

There is so much fascinating material in All About Eve and the production makes some strong commentary about aging and women. It starts to unpick how women see themselves, how they see each other, and the way men see and use them. But none of this rich material in the script is fully explored. Van Hove addresses concepts intellectually and admirably, but it feels like there is something more to Eve that should have been seen on stage.

Unless of course that was his point all along?

★★★☆☆

All About Eve plays at the Noel Coward Theatre until 10 May 2019. For more information or to book tickets, please visit the show website.