Palace Theatre, Manchester – until 4 November 2017
Guest reviewer: Ciaran Ward
Ria Jones and Danny Mac star in the Curve touring production of Sunset Boulevard, respectively portraying the faded silent film star, Norma Desmond, and the struggling Hollywood screenwriter, Joe Gillis. The musical, based on the 1950 Billy Wilder film, with music composed by Andrew Lloyd Webber, depicts the close-knit working relationship that both characters form, and the dire consequences that manifest from their alliance with each other.
Norma’s glamorous past is soon contaminated by the bleak stage lighting (designed by Ben Cracknell) and the melancholy score of ‘Once Upon a Time’ (directed by Adrian Kirk) – defining the state of depression that dominates the emotional depth of the character. A direct antithesis is provided through the bright spotlights and melodic harmonies inherent in the ‘This Time Next Year’ number, where almost all members of the ensemble cast look forward to the freedom that the future offers for their success.
The tragic underscores of Jones’ character generate a sense of heartfelt pathos among the audience. Her attachment to the past is compounded, in the narrative, through the vintage movie cameras that serve as a ubiquitous presence on stage; every time they come into focus, the audience is reminded that Norma is trapped within her former sense of stardom. Soon it becomes clear that this middle-aged woman is doomed to live in the shadow of the girl she once was, forever.
Joe’s response to this, in various moments of the play, is both cathartic and endearing. The Tango (choreographed by Lee Proud) that accompanies the ‘New Year Tango’ number, reflects the growing intimacy between the two characters and the ways in which Joe serves as a solace to the perturbed mind of Norma. Her suicidal tendencies become less pronounced as their attachment grows, with this substantiating a sense of ease and tranquillity in the conflict of the plot – one that makes the tragic climax so unanticipated.
Elements of foreboding, however, become predominant in the second act, with the detachment of Norma’s grand staircase into three distinct parts, paralleling her fractured relationship with Joe, and foreshadowing the three shots that resonate deeply in the penultimate scene. These elements provide the foundation for the iconic ‘I’m ready for my close-up’ moment in the dénouement, which Jones reinterprets to perfection, with this characterising the metamorphosis of the play, in the genre, from a musical to a tragedy.