Royal Court, London – until 8 April 2017
Bringing the memoir of Hollywood Legend Robert Evans to the stage was always going to be a challenge. How to do justice to the sweep of the story, from lowly women’s clothing salesman to tinseltown mover and shaker, without the infinite temporal and spatial possibilities of the man’s signature medium?
The answer is Simon McBurney’s Complicite; a company that takes live video, text, audio and performance and folds them into one mesmerising package. The Kid Stays in the Picture is a breathless, kinetic piece of theatre that takes its thematic cues from film, not least Evan’s signature work – Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather, here employed as thumping great metaphors for his private life and business practices.
McBurney’s production uses the mantra impressed on Evans by Hollywood heavyweights like Darryl Zanuck and Charles Bluhdorn as its starting point – namely what’s real isn’t nearly as important as what looks real. This is the structuring principle of American cinema, the philosophy of “printing the legend” as famously espoused by John Ford.
Evans’ career began in the shadow of the Golden Age and reached its peak with the American New Wave. In between, there was the counterculture and blowback like the Manson Family murders, which Evans narrowly avoided on account of being too busy to attend Sharon Tate’s fateful social. It’s a story full of colour, noise, monstrous egos and big money, serving magnificent artifice. Complicite’s approach, a great audio visual showcase, is therefore styled in tribute rather than born of any desire to deconstruct or strip back the man under glass.
The legend is what you pay for and the legend is what you get, with all the zing and brio preserved from the page. The myth maker is given his own all-American myth, Complicite’s complicity signalled with heightened recreations of all the key figures, as Evans recalled them, including one-time wife and actress Ali MacGraw, here indistinguishable from her Love Story persona.
It’s fast, perhaps frivolous; a show with no time to ponder the more tragic elements of Evans’ life – his legacy of relationship failure, the drugs, the murder of Roy Radin – but in a life this packed and dedicated to illusion, who’s got the time or the information? Ultimately, McBurney puts on a great show and leaves the audience basking in the aura of a self-mythologising honcho. One imagines the man Joe Eszterhas called “the devil” will have no complaints.