THEATRE / Further on up the road: Paul Taylor on a revitalised production of Lloyd Webber's Sunset Boulevard
Thursday 21 April 1994
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
Review: A panoramic account of the hacking scandalbooks
Arts & Ents blogs
- 1 Sabina Altynbekova, the girl branded 'too good looking' for volleyball, says social media obsession with her is a 'bit much'
- 2 Disney heiress Abigail disowns her share of family profits in West Bank company
- 3 Israel's propaganda machine is finally starting to misfire
- 4 Zayn Malik on Israel-Gaza: One Direction singer bombarded with Twitter death threats after posting #FreePalestine
- 5 'Hello mum, this is going to be hard for you to read ...'
New Netflix releases: Films and TV shows coming August 2014
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy
Best movies on Netflix UK and US: 32 films that will end your endless scrolling
Star Wars Episode 7: Simon Pegg hints at role
Guardians of the Galaxy - review: A superficial and half-hearted Marvel film
The secret report that helps Israel hide facts
Land for gas: Merkel and Putin discussed secret deal could end Ukraine crisis
Woman and two children killed by mob in riots over 'blasphemous' Facebook post in Pakistan
A day in the life of Vladimir Putin: The dictator in his labyrinth
Putin is 'thuggish, dishonest and reckless', says British ambassador to US
Richard Dawkins tweets: 'Date rape is bad, stranger rape is worse'
- < Previous
- Next >