Review: Evita at the Orchard Theatre

Sometimes it’s a bit of a shock to realise how long the shows I grew up with have been around (which in turn makes me feel old… but let’s not go there). While Evita – written by Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice in 1976 and first performed in the West End two years later – isn’t one I saw on stage until my 20s, I do remember watching the movie version starring Madonna and Antonio Banderas all the way back in 1996. Back then I didn’t necessarily follow all the political context of the story, but I loved the music and was fascinated by the rags to riches tale of a teenage girl from a rural town, who rose to become First Lady of Argentina and “Spiritual Leader of the Nation” – only to die from cancer at the age of just 33.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith Photography

Now Evita is back on tour, and bringing the story of Eva Perón, second wife of Argentine dictator Juan Perón, to a new generation. Starring Wicked‘s Emma Hatton and Italian actor Gian Marco Schiaretti – who recently played Tarzan in Stuttgart – this lavish production from Bill Kenwright is both entertaining and educational, a love story with added politics, and a great deal of style. And whether or not you follow all the ins and outs of Argentine history, it’s a fascinating insight into how a celebrity with no knowledge of politics can power their way to the top by sheer determination. Which makes you wonder if we’ll all be watching an equally tragic – for different reasons – show about Trump in 40 years’ time (if so may I suggest a working title of Covfefe: The Musical).

Not entirely surprisingly, West End star Emma Hatton gives a commanding and vocally flawless performance, just as much when Eva’s crumpled on the ground in the last days of her life as when she’s at the height of her power, performing the show-stopping Don’t Cry For Me Argentina to an adoring crowd. Alongside her, relative newcomer Gian Marco Schiaretti more than holds his own as the omnipresent Che, hitting just the right mix of Latin charm, arrogance and helplessness – and some impressive, not to mention unexpected, high notes. The two have excellent support from Kevin Stephen-Jones as Perón, Oscar Balmaseda as Eva’s first lover (and ticket to the big city) Magaldi, and Sarah O’Connor as the unnamed Mistress, a seemingly minor character who nonetheless wows the crowd with one of the show’s best-known numbers, Another Suitcase in Another Hall.

Photo credit: Pamela Raith Photography

With Bill Deamer’s lively choreography that takes inspiration both from the Latin American setting and the oppressive atmosphere of a military dictatorship, and an imposing set designed by Matthew Wright, Evita transports us to 1940s Argentina in a dazzling and fast-moving spectacle that only begins to slow down when its protagonist does. 40 years old the show may be, but the passion and energy of this production prove there’s plenty of life in Evita yet.

Evita is at the Orchard Theatre until 3rd June then continuing on tour.

Review: Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the Orchard Theatre

When I was 10, my parents took me to see Joseph at the London Palladium. To say I was excited is something of an understatement; for reasons I won’t go into, I was a little bit in love with the star, Phillip Schofield, and it was also – as far as I can remember – my first ever West End show. Ever since, my mum’s enjoyed reminiscing about how I was entranced from start to finish, and so began a lifelong obsession with theatre that led eventually to this very blog.

So it’s fair to say Joseph is a show that holds a pretty special place in my heart. Any chance I’ve had to see it again since has brought back those memories of childlike glee – and Bill Kenwright’s touring production, starring X Factor winner Joe McElderry, is no exception. By the time the curtain rose at the Orchard last night, I was practically bouncing up and down in my seat like the excited ten-year-old of 25 years ago, much to my sister’s amusement. (I wasn’t the only die-hard fan in the audience, either; partway through I noticed someone in the front row with pom-poms.)

For those not familiar with the show, it’s based on the biblical story of Joseph and his 11 jealous brothers. When their dad Jacob surprises his favourite son with a fancy new coat, his brothers beat him up and sell him into slavery (as you do). After various ups and downs, Joseph’s talent for interpreting dreams brings him fame and fortune, and leads him eventually to an emotional reunion with his father and guilt-stricken brothers.

Once the show got underway, it all came flooding back: Andrew Lloyd Webber’s familiar tunes that take us on a world tour of musical styles; Tim Rice’s witty lyrics, including jokes that I’m fairly sure I wouldn’t have understood the first time around; the big, colourful sets with charmingly basic props that put you in mind of a (very) high-budget school play (in the absence of the much-loved turntable from previous productions, Jacob’s inflatable sheep were probably my favourite bit, not least because they needed a bit of help from the cast to stand upright). It also turns out I still know all the words to every song, including the 29 colours of Joseph’s coat, in order – I dazzled my sister with this piece of useless trivia before the show started, and she did a very good job of looking impressed.

Speaking of being impressed, I’d heard good reports of Joe McElderry’s Joseph, and he didn’t disappoint, with powerful vocals and an easy charm. He’s said in interviews that Close Every Door is one of his favourite moments, and it shows – his version is up there with the best I’ve heard. Britain’s Got Talent star Lucy Kay makes a confident musical theatre debut as the Narrator, and Ben James-Ellis has us all rocking and rolling as the Pharaoh; as always, I wished we could have seen more of him.

Photo credit: Mark Yeoman

Knowing a show inside and out can have its disadvantages, and ironically being a super fan probably made me more critical than most… but even so my complaints are few and far between. A couple of the musical numbers, including the one that closes the first act, feel like they’ve been cut short – an odd decision given it’s not a very long show anyway. Act 2 has, for me, lost a little bit of its humour, and one or two of the best one-liners (“it takes a man who knows no fear to wrestle… with a goat” still makes me giggle every time) were drowned out by the music and I suspect anyone who didn’t know the lyric would have missed it.

But I’m nitpicking. Joseph is, as ever, a fun, colourful and brilliantly bonkers night out for the whole family. It may be 25 years since I first saw it, and incredibly almost 50 since it was written, but one thing’s for sure – this is a show that will never really get old, and I have no doubt I’ll still be bouncing excitedly in my seat and embarrassing family members another two decades from now. Here’s hoping, anyway.

Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat is at the Orchard Theatre until 11th February.