×
You will be redirected back to your article in seconds

West End Review: Gillian Anderson and Lily James in ‘All About Eve’

GIllian Anderson and Lily James star in auteur Ivo van Hove's adaptation of the classic film.

With:
Gillian Anderson, Merric Boyd, Monica Dolan, Ian Drysdale,  Rejiro Emasiobi, Tsion Habte, Charles Hagerty, Lily James, Jessie Mei Li, Chanelle Modi, Stuart Nunn, Julian Ovenden, Phillipa Peak, Sheila Reid, Grace Stone, Rhashan Stone, Stanley Townsend, Philip Voyzey, Michael Warburton.

2 hours

To adapt a crass old adage: it’s “All About Eve,” not “All About Steve.” Stripping Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s sharp-witted screenplay about a waning theater star of its period trappings, Ivo van Hove’s stage adaptation fine-tunes its feminism for our own sexist age — image-obsessed, anti-aging, the time of Time’s Up. Rather than blaming Lily James’ ambitious Eve for overthrowing Gillian Anderson’s Margo Channing, this “live cinema” staging reserves its real ire for the men around them both: those that script, shape and critique the way women appear. “Funny business, a woman’s career,” Margo mused in 1950; 70 years on, it’s funnier still.

The silvery walls of designer Jan Versweyveld’s stage are studded with portraits of Anderson’s Margo: lips pouted, hair tussled, hand grazing a cheek. They’re the sort of shots that sell make-up or clothes, and sit in glossy magazines on glossier coffee tables. This is the visual lexicon of femininity and stardom today, the currency of fame that gives female celebrities their value. Over the course of “All About Eve,” almost without anyone initially noticing, Anderson’s photos are swapped for almost identical shots of James’ Eve. This “All About Eve” is all about image.

Mankiewicz’s original film starts as showbiz satire and mutates into horror. Bit by bit, the butter-wouldn’t-melt Eve homes in on her heroine, the great Broadway star, and primes herself for a well-timed pounce. She is a perfect parasite: a fawning young fan who, gradually, gears up to oust her host. Eve’s not just an understudy who usurps the star, but an imposter who appropriates her idol’s entire identity. She studies Margo’s mannerisms, what makes her tick, then steps into her shoes, her spotlight, even her skin. By the time you clock on, it’s already too late. The young woman has consumed her elder entirely.

Here, from the moment James’ eager Eve scoops up Margo’s costume and tries it on for size, sliding an arm into each sleeve, her intentions are obvious. When she bows, dreamily, into thin air, Anderson’s stood right behind her, looking on like a ghost. It’s creepy, but if it pre-empts the plot, giving the game away from the start, van Hove has another target in mind: not the act of replacement, but the image being refreshed — a version of womanhood shaped by the male gaze.

Because both Margo and Eve are surrounded by men: Stanley Townsend’s urbane and authoritative critic Addison DeWitt, who guides the onstage camera through this backstage world and so frames what we see; Rhashan Stone’s nervy dramatist Lloyd Richards, who writes these women their roles; Julian Ovenden’s charmed director, who pulls them into shape; Ian Drysdale’s obnoxious producer, who puts up the cash. Between them, these men shape the way women are seen: who gets the spotlight, in what roles and how. Actresses themselves are reduced to mere pawns. As the playwright snaps, “It’s about time the piano realized it has not written the concerto.”

Van Hove, cleverly, uses the camera to split the public and the private, on from off. As cameras snake through the action, one shows Margo’s party guests cavorting, while another finds the hostess drinking alone, vomiting up her champagne then fixing her face, wiping her chin and rejoining the fray. Another spies Eve, flustered, fending off an intrusive interview behind the bedroom door, before popping outside wearing nothing but a towel and a smile. Throughout we’re privy to public faces and private moments, and van Hove suggests that women are constantly expected to perform.

His central motifs are makeup and mirrors. Again and again, we see Margo and Eve fixing their faces and staring back at their reflections, sometimes holding their features aghast. A mini-camera catches them in close up and, with a little technical wizardry, their faces age before their very eyes: Anderson’s cracks into wrinkles, her hair thins; James’ mutates to meet Anderson’s outline. Those portraits exert a pressure of their own, too perfect to be true. “It got so I couldn’t tell the real from the unreal,” Eve frets. “Except that the unreal seemed more real to me.”

If it’s a typically incisive understanding of a story’s substance, too often “All About Eve” feels like auto van Hove — a selection of the Flemish director’s old familiar tricks. It’s meaningful, but mechanical; cleverly calculated, artfully calibrated but ultimately uninspired. That the production never finds a way to subvert or distort its own gaze — casting two beautiful screen stars without entirely disrupting their image (or its own marketing campaign) — only adds to the irony of having a male director at the helm and a female lead who used opening night to tweet a promotional code for her own clothing line. It all adds to the impression of superficiality.

“I wouldn’t worry too much about your heart,” says Margo, icily, right at the end. “You can always put that award where your heart used to be.” Well, quite.

Popular on Variety

West End Review: Gillian Anderson and Lily James in 'All About Eve'

Noel Coward Theatre, London; 872 seats; £95 ($122) top. Opened, reviewed Feb. 12, 2019. Running time: 2 HOURS

Production: A Sonia Friedman Productions production of a screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, adapted by Ivo van Hove.

Creative: Directed by Ivo van Hove. Set and lighting design, Jan Versweyveld; costume design, An D’Huys; composer, PJ Harvey; sound design, Tom Gibbons.

Cast: Gillian Anderson, Merric Boyd, Monica Dolan, Ian Drysdale,  Rejiro Emasiobi, Tsion Habte, Charles Hagerty, Lily James, Jessie Mei Li, Chanelle Modi, Stuart Nunn, Julian Ovenden, Phillipa Peak, Sheila Reid, Grace Stone, Rhashan Stone, Stanley Townsend, Philip Voyzey, Michael Warburton.

More Legit

  • Secret Derren Brown review

    Broadway Review: 'Derren Brown: Secret'

    Audiences love to be fooled, whether it’s with clever plotting with a twist, the arrival of an unexpected character or even a charming flimflam man with a British accent. The latter is Derren Brown, and he’s entertaining audiences for a limited run at the Cort Theatre, where he is playing head-scratching mind games and other [...]

  • Matthew Broderick, Sarah Jessica ParkerNew York

    Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker to Reunite on Broadway for 'Plaza Suite'

    Real-life couple Matthew Broderick and Sarah Jessica Parker are hitting the Broadway stage again for a reboot of the late Neil Simon’s 1968 play “Plaza Suite.” The staging will mark the Broadway directorial debut of Tony award-winner John Benjamin Hickey. Set in New York City’s Plaza Hotel in Suite 719, “Plaza Suite” is comprised of [...]

  • Derren Brown

    Listen: Derren Brown Spills His Broadway 'Secret'

    Derren Brown has spent a lot of his career performing magic shows on theater stages — but he’ll be the first to tell you that magic usually doesn’t make for great theater. Listen to this week’s podcast below: “If you’re a magician of any sort, you can make stuff happen with a click of your [...]

  • A Very Expensive Poison review

    London Theater Review: 'A Very Expensive Poison'

    Vladimir Putin owes his power to the stage. The president’s closest advisor trained as a theatre director before applying his art to politics, and ran Russia like a staged reality, spinning so many fictions that truth itself began to blur. By scrambling the story and sowing confusion, Putin could exert absolute control. The long-awaited latest [...]

  • Betrayal review Tom Hiddleston

    Broadway Review: 'Betrayal' With Tom Hiddleston

    and Zawe Ashton as a long-married couple and Charlie Cox as the secret lover. Director Jamie Lloyd’s impeccable direction — now on Broadway, after a hot-ticket London run — strips Pinter’s 1978 play to its bare bones: the excruciating examination of the slow death of a marriage.  It’s a daring approach, leaving the characters nowhere [...]

  • Jayne Houdyshell arrives at the 71st

    'The Music Man' Revival Adds Four Tony Winners to Broadway Cast

    Tony Award-winners Jayne Houdyshell, Jefferson Mays, Marie Mullen and Shuler Hensley will join stars Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster in the upcoming Broadway revival of “The Music Man.” In “The Music Man,” Jackman will play con-man Harold Hill, who arrives in a small, fictional Iowa town called River City and urges the townsfolk to start [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content