Touring – reviewed at the New Victoria Theatre, Woking
The recent trend in my life seems to be watching things about the Golden Age of Hollywood and actresses who can’t face the loss of fame.
If you watched Ryan Murphy’s recent television series, Feud, you’ll notice the strong similarities between the life of the fictional Norma Desmond and film royalty, Joan Crawford. Both women were stars of the silent film era and the embodiment of Hollywood glamour. However, as they grew older and their fame and fans disappeared, they fell into
a draining game of always trying to appear young and to live as though their glory days weren’t over.
In Andrew Lloyd Webber’s adaptation of Billy Wilder’s 1951 film Sunset Boulevard we meet a reclusive Norma
who is in a dark phase of her life as she’s trying to get back into the film world. Enter struggling screenwriter Joe Gillis, desperate to get his lucky break, who somehow ends up in Norma’s sprawling mansion.
Dreaming of making her comeback, Norma recruits Joe to edit and finish her screenplay. However, their relationship slowly spirals into its own film of drama and tension as Norma becomes obsessive and possessive over Joe, threatening suicide if he leaves.
The staging is slick and perfectly evocative of the 40s/50s, helped hugely by Douglas O’Connell’s spectacular video and projections. These not only add to each scene and song but make the whole thing cinematic and help to blur the line between reality and film which Norma struggles to deal with.
The show, like it’s characters, is full of melodrama and power. Ria Jones takes on the role of the narcissistic, fading Norma Desmond with masterful skill. Her performance is truly remarkable and she embodies the role with every fibre of her being. Commanding the stage and audience with her every word and whacking Andrew Lloyd Webber’s huge numbers out of the park. Jones puts in everything the has to earn her extensive standing ovation at the end.
As the handsome, aspiring screenwriter Joe, Dougie Carter is outstanding and versatile. From fairly innocent at the start to dark and tortured. He is absolutely faultless, with his rendition of Sunset Boulevard gripping the audience at the start of Act 2 along with is sharp, engaging chemistry with Ria Jones.
Special mention must go to Adam Pearce who deftly plays the Phantom-esque role of Max Von Myerling and superbly balances his endearing and chilling sides whilst delivering some top class vocals that almost steal the show.
This production is a musical theatre masterclass that perfectly charts a story of obsession, drama, age and lust. It’s a must see for any musical theatre fan, with Ria Jones’ performance worth the ticket price alone.
Sunset Boulevard runs at the New Victoria theatre until January 27th before continuing it’s tour.