Evita, Curve Leicester: simply too austere to bring the Argentine heroine to life

Martha Kirby as Eva Perón in Evita at Curve Leicester
Martha Kirby as Eva Perón in Evita at Curve Leicester - Marc Brenner

Three years ago, in the darkest hour of the pandemic, Nikolai Foster delivered a streamed staging of Sunset Boulevard that used visible camerawork and the mighty, empty Curve in ways that brilliantly rejuvenated Andrew Lloyd Webber’s epic about a faded, fictive pre-talkies goddess.

Watching Jamie Lloyd’s current revival of Sunset at the Savoy – austere as it is, and canny too with its use of video – I definitely had moments of déjà vu, to put it mildly. Mind you, that sensation occurs in reverse with Foster’s new Leicester revival of Evita, a show that Lloyd transformed into a blade-sharp theatrical machine at Regent’s Park in 2019, discarding the decorative and applying the whirlwind force of the ensemble to summon the Argentina that Eva Perón wooed and won.

A similar stripped-back aesthetic prevails here, the visual restraint stirring a chill blast rather than the expected South American warmth. The opening vista is starkly elegiac, with a nation mourning – in 1952 – its First Lady. Foster draws our focus to a humble coffin raised on an unlovely stack of scaffolding while the company, in casual modern black clobber, congregates and sways in a mood of collective, candle-lit sadness.

Such sparsity rams home the thought that Eva wound up back where she started, in a state of modest simplicity after years of profligate excess. But with a mainstage as capacious as the Curve’s, our imaginations were having to work overtime to fill in some of the detail, as – rewinding to her youth – Martha Kirby’s Eva dreams of leaving the sticks and heading to Buenos Aires (or the “Big Apple” as lyricist Tim Rice has her croon). It’s quite hard to get a sense of where we are, and the early scenes suffer.

With the shift to the metropolis, we get more to feast on, and Adam Murray’s fleet, often burly and virile choreography – with shades even at times of West Side Story – combines thrillingly with live camera-work. The point is made, in rippling flesh and fancy projection, that the upwardly thrusting Eva utilised image and performance to seduce the masses, though of course the show’s sardonic commentator ‘Che’ (Guevara, here played by Tyrone Huntley) overtly and amply makes that observation.

Foster and his team do their utmost to create a sense of it all mattering. There are the usual spurs to engagement – some of the finest songs in the ALW catalogue are here – and the usual encumbrances: lyrics that tip from succinctness into word-salad (or should that be ‘ensalada de palabras’?).

But our enthrallment finally depends upon the leading lady, and much as I admire Kirby’s vocal capability, there’s a blankness to her portrayal that frustrates our becoming enamoured with this unsympathetic creature. There’s little spark between her and Gary Milner’s Perón, and her populace-rousing Don’t Cry for Me Argentina lacks a vital tremulous kick. Whisper it: you get a greater frisson listening to Chumisa Dornford-May’s rendition of that anthem of the jilted Another Suitcase in Another Hall. And whisper it more loudly still: is this really suitable as festive fare?

Until Jan 13. Tickets: 0116 242 3595;

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