Touring – reviewed at Edinburgh Playhouse
Guest reviewer: Andrew Cowan
Sunset Boulevard is a thrilling ride through the film industry of mid-century America, filled with the song, dance and cultural ephemera of the era. It’s an intoxicating spectacle that is both entrancing and, in parts, exhausting.
The production takes place in Hollywood on the cusp of the 1940s and 1950s. The show’s intermission pointedly falls at a New Year’s party in 1949 in a manner symbolic of the story’s main theme of the passing of one era to the next.
The time period and location is a particularly rich seam for the set design which, especially in the opening moments, is a flurry of transitions. The audience is taken from the gates of Paramount studio to production lots, writer’s rooms and soundstages in the space of a matter of minutes. Furthermore, artifacts of film production are woven intelligently into the set throughout. One driving scene in particular employed footage of busy Los Angeles streets projected behind the protagonist’s vehicle while shadowed cameramen revolved around him in a way that recalls the early special effects of the time. It could easily have been confusing, the fact that it wasn’t is testament to the care with which each aspect of the set had been considered.
As one might expect given the story, the music throughout the show was constantly evocative of the period and brilliantly performed by the band. One aspect to note is that your enjoyment of the show may in part depend on how you feel about Andrew Lloyd Webber, who supplies the music in the production and isn’t always for everyone.
Danny Mac as protagonist Joe Gillis was well cast and particularly excelled at both the breezy 50s dialog exchanged with members of the supporting cast and his rendition of the title song ‘Sunset Boulevard’. Predictably a cheer went up around the hall as the actor, who appeared on Strictly Come Dancing, danced a tango. His interaction with romantic interest Molly Lynch as Betty Schaefer was a touch lacking, but this relationship is not really the centrepiece of the story and as such both the songs and dialog were a little perfunctory. Special mention should be given to both the singing and acting of Adam Pearce as Max Von Meyerling, who deflty straddled the line between chilling and endearing and very nearly stole the show. However Ria Jones as the needy and demented Norma Desmond was superb throughout, delivering a deeply poignant performance.