Following the fascinating rise and subsequent downfall of Eva Perón, the history surrounding the Argentinan First Lady, and that fire of passion that burns inside her for the power she desired, continues to thrive as one of theatre's classics - Evita - has Christmas residency at The Curve, Leicester. Andrew Lloyd Webber's depiction of the ambitious trailblazer has stood the test of time and continues to be appreciated by audiences, having first been performed back in 1978.
With a chilling opening sequence set to the sounds of 'Requiem for Evita' in which her coffin is raised on the pedestal in place for public mourning, the crowds show adoration for their bygone leader. However, a conflicted past divides opinion as the contradictory deeper stories unfold regarding the reasons that the star reached her pinnacle. Whether familiar with Eva's true narrative or not, some research around watching this depiction may be beneficial for extra context and a richer understanding of the character (of which some information is interestingly unspoken in the musical).
Harbouring turmoil in the social and political world of Argentina, Eva (played excellently by Martha Kirby) started out trying to break through in the entertainment industry, but her stance in film and radio was never enough for her. Garnering the nickname 'Evita' and stumbling across the opportunity to marry the fierce Juan Perón (Gary Milner), she was thrust into a new limelight. Narrated by Che (Tyrone Buckley), with particular emphasis on class status, the controversies of their work start to have a mass effect - to the chants of their names, they have the potential to shift the entire cultural climate of the country.
Eva's compelling demeanour is addictive and draws you in at every turn. The elements of alluring promiscuity, and hunger for influence but contrasting attempts to maintain popularity with the regulars, whom she claims to relate to via her poor economic beginnings, make for a combination to watch. However, it seems as if there is so much unvisited potential with the presentation of this.
Martha's vocals are encapsulating, and much like Eva herself, has the audience in the palm of her hand. She does justice to the iconic 'Don't Cry for Me Argentina' with the same strength as the many huge successes that have undertaken the role prior, singing it with beauty. Conjuring lively aspirations of heading there 'Buenos Aires' has the fans come out in anticipation: a juxtaposition to 'Another Suitcase In Another Hall', a softer track sung by the Mistress (Chumisa Dornford-May) who shows skilful control in this solo, depicting the rejection after Eva dismisses her to be with Perón, following 'I'd Be Surprisingly Good For You' whereby they persuade each other the benefits of getting together.
With Evita being the focal point though, the chorus of company fades into the background, despite sounding glorious as a group. As an overall soundtrack, it has had a vast array of critical reception over the years, but in comparison with others in recent times, it seems very 'standard Lloyd Webber musical', and alongside Tim Rice's lyrics, doesn't stand out as overly memorable, besides the obvious tune.
Significantly stripped back beyond expectation, the staging is unique and set largely minimal. Industrial in nature, a metal bridge is suspended, and a cage-like area occasionally appears to give the impression of hierarchy with chairs representing political candidates; a big set of steps is a primary feature, indicating the symbolisation of climbing to the top. Countless bulbs generate mesmerising lighting that appears striking on the stark scenery, leaving the storytelling to those beneath them. Eva's clothes do well to illustrate the developing stance on her career as it progresses too, reflecting the way this changes over time. The use of hand-held camera work is often executed with detrimental effect, but here, it was a fantastic addition, capturing alternative angles of emotions, particularly of Martha Kirby as Eva, and bringing a crisp, further dimension to the overall visuals. Opportunities for group choreography are performed well, with space around the auditorium utilised too, but individualised direction seems to require more thought and - through no fault of the cast - may come across a little stagnant at points, where the biographical plot isn't shown to progress with much vigour. For such a complexly themed piece - politics, power, class divisions and feminism being just a few discussed - some moments could have a punchier impact but sadly do not.
In summary, Evita is an alluring subject, enhanced greatly by Martha's sensational performance in the role. It is very much for the theatre traditionalists in its style, despite the revamp and timeless relevance of its topics, but must still have a lot going for it for many audience members to be having such prolonged prosperity.