THEATRE / Further on up the road: Paul Taylor on a revitalised production of Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard

And this time will be bigger / And brighter than we knew it,' warbles the faded silent screen star, Norma Desmond, when (in the deluded belief that she can make a comeback) she pays a return visit to Paramount Studios. With the revamped version of Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard that has just opened, it's more a case of this time being darker and tauter than we knew it, and, by virtue of that, a great deal better.

Having seen Sunset, mark two, when it was first unveiled in Los Angeles last December, I find myself in the unique position among British theatre critics of being able to offer a comprehensive Which? guide to the trio of Normas and Joe Gillises who have played the part. Comparisons, as Shakespeare says, are odorous, but we can clear the air quickly over the playing of Joe, the young down-on-his- luck screenwriter Norma lures into her fatal web. John Barrowman, who now takes the part in London, is easily the best. With a kept-boy pout that he strives to disown with scowls of self-reproach and thwarted decency, he skilfully conveys the moral ambivalence of the character, a would-be idealist tempted into cynicism and bad faith. He also sings better than his forerunners.

With Norma, the picture is much more complicated. Betty Buckley, her new London incarnation, begins magnificently, her rendition of 'With One Look' showing off the full range of a voice that can move from imperious harshness to quavery deliquescence or pounce on a word with lethal talons. Indeed, the best moment of the evening came in the way Buckley responded, utterly in character, to the storm of applause her performance of this song provoked. She allowed herself a gratified flicker of a smile, but then, as though they belonged to someone slowly emerging from a trance, the flung-out arms began to sink down in little stylised flutters. Like a gesture from a silent movie, this dumb-show as collapsing illusion gave us notice that, in the terms of this show, we were the ex-fans the superannuated star performs to in her mind.

For general acting, though, I much prefer Glenn Close, who opened the part in LA. Buckley's Norma goes through worrying bouts of normality, whereas with Close, whose Norma picked up weirder frequencies than either Buckley or Patti LuPone, there was an edge of derangement to everything she did that was by turns comic, tragi-comic, tragic. Buckley is often seduced by the music into playing its sentiments straight; Close showed you the virtues of sometimes playing against it. There are brilliant moments: the final insane descent as Salome is authentically disturbing, but it's arguable that the entirely new idea here of having Norma trip over in a sprawl and have to reassume mad majesty is executed so credibly that more than half the audience will go home thinking it was a genuine accident. This is somewhat self-defeating, artistically.

As I reported from LA, there is an altogether stronger coherence and fluency about this reworking. Trevor Nunn's production, which started sluggishly in London, now moves with a wonderful assurance and pace. From being too garish a year ago, the look is now positively Stygian, a dark Los Angeles of the mind, as Billy Wilder first imagined it. High-art types are also catered for, if momentarily, in the new song 'Every Movie's a Circus' which contains a sneaky allusion to James Joyce: 'Writers with pride don't live in LA / Silence, exile, and cunning / These are the only cards you can play.'

'Sunset Boulevard' is at the Adelphi Theatre, WC2. Booking: 071-344 0055

(Photograph omitted)

Arts and Entertainment

art
Arts and Entertainment
Rupert Murdoch and Rebekah Brooks in 2011

Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandal

books
Arts and Entertainment
Comedian Jack Dee has allegedly threatened to quit as chairman of long-running Radio 4 panel show 'I’m Sorry I Haven’t A Clue'

Edinburgh Festival
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Director Paul Thomas Anderson (right) and his movie The Master featuring Joaquin Phoenix

film
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>Laura
Carmichael- Lady Edith Crawley</strong></p>
<p>Carmichael currently stars as Sonya in the West End production of
Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya at the Vaudeville Theatre. She made headlines this autumn
when Royal Shakespeare Company founder Sir Peter Hall shouted at her in a
half-sleepy state during her performance. </p>
<p>Carmichael made another appearance on the stage in 2011, playing
two characters in David Hare’s <em>Plent</em>y
at the Crucible Theatre in Sheffield. </p>
<p>Away from the stage she starred as receptionist Sal in the 2011
film <em>Tinker Tailor Solider Spy</em>. </p>

TV
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
Zoe Saldana admits she's

TV
Arts and Entertainment
'Old Fashioned' will be a different kind of love story to '50 Shades'
film
Arts and Entertainment

film
Arts and Entertainment
The Great British Bake Off contestants line-up behind Sue and Mel in the Bake Off tent

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Mitch Winehouse is releasing a new album

music
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Beast would strip to his underpants and take to the stage with a slogan scrawled on his bare chest whilst fans shouted “you fat bastard” at him

music
Arts and Entertainment
On set of the Secret Cinema's Back to the Future event

film
Arts and Entertainment
Gal Gadot as Wonder Woman

film
Arts and Entertainment
Pedro Pascal gives a weird look at the camera in the blooper reel

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Public vote: Art Everywhere poster in a bus shelter featuring John Hoyland
art
Arts and Entertainment
Peter Griffin holds forth in The Simpsons Family Guy crossover episode

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Judd Apatow’s make-it-up-as-you-go-along approach is ideal for comedies about stoners and slackers slouching towards adulthood
filmWith comedy film audiences shrinking, it’s time to move on
Arts and Entertainment
booksForget the Man Booker longlist, Literary Editor Katy Guest offers her alternative picks
Arts and Entertainment
Off set: Bab El Hara
tvTV series are being filmed outside the country, but the influence of the regime is still being felt
Arts and Entertainment
Red Bastard: Where self-realisation is delivered through monstrous clowning and audience interaction
comedy
Arts and Entertainment
O'Shaughnessy pictured at the Unicorn Theatre in London
tvFiona O'Shaughnessy explains where she ends and her strange and wonderful character begins
Arts and Entertainment
The new characters were announced yesterday at San Diego Comic Con

TV
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

    With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
    Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

    How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

    As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
    We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

    We will remember them

    Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
    Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

    Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
    Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

    Acting in video games gets a makeover

    David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices
    Could our smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases via Health Kit and Google Fit?

    Could smartphones soon be diagnosing diseases?

    Health Kit and Google Fit have been described as "the beginning of a health revolution"
    Ryanair has turned on the 'charm offensive' but can we learn to love the cut-price carrier again?

    Can we learn to love Ryanair again?

    Four recent travellers give their verdicts on the carrier's improved customer service
    Billionaire founder of Spanx launches range of jeans that offers

    Spanx launches range of jeans

    The jeans come in two styles, multiple cuts and three washes and will go on sale in the UK in October
    10 best over-ear headphones

    Aural pleasure: 10 best over-ear headphones

    Listen to your favourite tracks with this selection, offering everything from lambskin earmuffs to stainless steel
    Commonwealth Games 2014: David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end

    Commonwealth Games

    David Millar ready to serve up gold for his beloved Scotland in the end
    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup 2014: Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings

    UCI Mountain Bike World Cup

    Downhill all the way to the top for the Atherton siblings
    Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

    The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

    A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

    Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

    How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
    Chris Pratt: From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    From 'Parks and Recreation' to 'Guardians of the Galaxy'

    He was homeless in Hawaii when he got his big break. Now the comic actor Chris Pratt is Hollywood's new favourite action star