Review: All About Eve, Noël Coward Theatre

All About Eve is, somewhat predictably, all about Eve. Eve Harrington (Lily James), in particular – a down and out war widow with a love of theatre. She meets her favourite actress, the accomplished and considerably older Margot Channing (Gillian Anderson), after meeting Karen Richards (Monica Dolan), a friend of Margot’s and wife of playwright Lloyd Richards (Rhashan Stone). Eve tells Karen, Margot and co. her sob story and Margot takes her under her wing. Eve becomes Margot’s assistant, administrator and general lackey, whilst her partner, Broadway director Bill Sampson (Julian Ovenden), is making it big in Hollywood. All is well, until Eve begins to overstep her mark as she tries to step into the spotlight, Margot’s spotlight. Adapted from the 1950’s film of the same name, which was adapted from Mary Orr’s 1946 play The Wisdom of Eve, which also inspired the hit musical Applause, theatreland’s obsession with this cautionary tale continues with Ivo van Hove’s new adaptation.

With the help of set and lighting designer Jan Versweyveld, whom van Hove has worked with on almost all his productions, All About Eve uses the same staging techniques as van Hove’s 2017 production of Network. The cast are occasionally followed by a crew member wielding a camera and the footage is streamed live onto a screen above the stage. It’s a neat and interesting way to avoid moving sets and having lots of complicated rooms, and gives more of an interactive feel. We are following the cast, rather than watching them through the fourth wall. Nifty camerawork is also used metaphorically, with a camera placed eye level in Margot/Eve’s dressing room mirror. Alex Urgallo’s transformative animation helps us see what they see, both on the outside and the inside, both who they are and who they want to be.

Anderson as Margot is tenacious, wise, glamorous and nobody’s fool. Watching her slink around the stage in tiny red dresses, being wary of everyone and everything, most of all Eve, is thrilling. She is the first to suspect something is awry, and spends the rest of the time trying to convince everyone else. I can’t imagine it was very hard for Anderson to adopt the role of Channing the stage legend, having been nominated for two Olivier awards in her time. She’s naturally charismatic; it’s as though she is Margot Channing.

James is equally marvellous as Eve, a deer in the headlights playing the part of a conniving and unscrupulous starlet. Initially convinced she has pulled off her performance of a lifetime as the star-struck girl who got lucky, she is quickly brought back down to earth by misogynistic reporter Addison Dewitt (Stanley Townsend) when she gets caught in her own web of lies, and the spider becomes the fly.

Ultimately, All About Eve suggests is that showbiz is not necessarily a safe place for a woman. Youth and beauty are prone to being exploited or abused by men like Dewitt, and age and experience are always at risk of being replaced. Show cunning and initiative? You’re a scheming devil-woman. Dare to suspect you’re being replaced even though you are actually being replaced? You’re hysterical and paranoid. Margot has been in the game long enough to know the complexities of being female in the industry, and Orr’s original Margot notes “that’s one career all females have in common – whether we like it or not – is being a woman.” All About Eve, with its two stellar female leads, smart staging and timeless story, is an unlikely feminist fable that shows the cut-throat side of fame and fortune. 

All About Eve is playing at the Noël Coward Theatre until 11 May 2019. For more information and tickets, visit the Delfont Mackintosh website.