Friday, 24 March 2017

Review The Kid Stays In The Picture


The Kid Stays In The Picture 
Based On the Life Story Of Robert Evans
Adapted by Simon McBurney and James Yeatman

His Wicked, Wicked Ways
https://royalcourttheatre.com/

First of all, TLT's sidekick would like to make it clear: the little car is innocent; the little car has never shared a line of coke with TLT; the sound you heard was the exhaust pipe backfiring and the little car has definitely never, ever been in ladies' pants. And if anyone says anything different, they will swiftly receive one phone call - and only one - from the little car's lawyer ...  You have been warned ...

Frankly, TLT was completely unaware of her companion's colourful past and associates between rolling off the conveyor belt and - er - theatre reviewing. But life has some strange bedfellows (and mistresses) as The Kid Stays In The Picture continually strives to assure us.

While words tumble out in Simon McBurney's and James Yeatman's adaptation, it's somehow the images, maybe totally appropriately, that dominate this collage-style stage version of Hollywood producer Robert Evans's autobiography, his heyday, demise and re-emergence from the 1950s onwards. The different film styles also indicate different eras of producer Robert Evans's life.

Several actors on the stage, some of whom clutch microphones as if recording for a post production movie voice over, act out the story.

As far as it goes, the acting is fine but there's little chance for character development as they are more narrators breaking every now and then for a role in Evans's memoir. At the same time the older Evans (Danny Huston) himself is a shadow on the backdrop, becoming as distinctive as a Hitchcock silhouette.

As part of the mythologising, we are given a swift resume of Evans's precocious and promiscuous life as a child actor (Heather Burns) before settling in with Christian Camargo playing the producer at the height of his career with biggish hair and bigger glasses.

In the midst of this we encounter, for want of a less incestuous word, a cast of characters including Henry Kissinger, Ali McGraw, Mia Farrow, Roman Polanski, Francis Ford Coppola and Marlon Brando.

Evans started life in New York where his father had a dental practice in Harlem and his mother's wealthier family were successful rag traders. First he was in radio, but his acting career stalled and he also became a salesman for his brother and his business partner's successful ladies clothing business.

That was before he was plucked from relative obscurity by old-guard Hollywood royalty Norma Shearer to star as her husband, the late wunderkind producer Irving Thalberg. Then after winning his next part, he was defended by mogul Daryl Zanuck on the set of The Sun Also Rises, against the hostility of the whole cast and writer Ernest Hemingway, when producer Zanuck confirmed: "The kid stays in the picture!".

Evans himself sure stayed in the pictures. He entered movie producing. His career soared as production head at Paramount Studios and as an independent producer, at its peak Love Story, Rosemary's Baby, The Godfather and Chinatown being in his impressive portfolio.

Anna Fleischle's spare, studio/work room design includes sliding glass screens which take the projections but also act as a glass enclosure for some of the action.

A small white fridge also transforms into a smaller projection screen (video designer Simon Wainwright) while middle-aged Evans sits in a brown leather revolving office chair. Camera dollies  propelled around the stage also provide live feeds.  

Evans's print 1994 autobiography sits somewhere between Errol Flynn's 1959 tome, David Niven's 1970s' bestsellers The Moon's A Balloon and Bring On The Empty Horses and Julia Phillips' 1991 expose You'll Never Eat Lunch In This Town Again. However, for TLT, it never quite delivered the goods.

Maybe because it's basically a grim, serious story which feels frustratingly constrained under a bragging, name dropping main story and a layer of legal advice. This rather alienating sTyle is of course open to parody, and, it has to be said, rather disarmingly Evans seems to have realised this, taking part in a fantastical cartoon version of himself Kid Notorious.

The stage version also feels constrained - but this time by its published source with no chance to expand to fit a more knowledgeable 21st century audience. Still there is at least one juxtaposition which made us think again about the 1969 murder of actress Sharon Tate, movie director Roman Polanski's wife, Jay Sebring, Wojciech Frykowski and Abigail Folger.

However this could just as well have been an accidental culmulative (wrong) impression.   As it is, this is a pretty straightforward, but glaringly partisan, rendition of a life, as already narrated in the book and a well-received documentary.

Nevertheless somewhere amongst all this, there is a strange merging of "real life" incidents and the iconic movies which is more than only interesting. It's totally disturbing and comes near to questioning, at the very least, the mental health and legality of a whole industry.

Where concentrating on the peccadillos and blameworthiness of an individual is almost seen as diverting away from something more fundamentally skewed and rotten. But, despite a link to American politics, this aspect is buried under what feels like a lot of period kitsch and oft-repeated stories inside the comfort zone. 

If you've never read a Hollywood biography or history, the roll call of sex, drugs, gangland and lawyers, contractual shenanigans, marriages and divorces, score settling, devious producers directors and writers looking after their own interests or just seeking to bring others down with them may be a revelation.

But it's what is not said which struck us as having more potential. Playwright Arthur Miller, we seem to remember, once wrote how his father, a women's clothes' manufacturer, rued the day he rejected an investment inn the then up-and-coming Paramount Pictures.

So, we feel, it would have been interesting to put into context Evans' role in the clothing industry and subsequent Hollywood career.

The anecdotes seem oft-recounted to the point of having a puppet-like non spontaneity but surely some of them can now be unravelled to give a little more away? The overlap, for example, between politics and La La Land success. The extent to which competition concentrated in one town can go far out of control. 

But, most of all, in this day and age, if they wanted to reinvigorate the Evans' franchise, we did wonder why it just didn't go straight into a Netflix, Sky or Amazon drama boxed set? Maybe it's something to do with the mooted HBO miniseries on Hollywood kingpin mob lawyer Sidney Korshack which appears to have disappeared without a trace.

Certainly,  this slightly puzzling production suffers, in our opinion, from some of the same problems as the book - it promises more than it delivers. Anyway, it's an amber light for a show which we wished had pushed the boundaries of our knowledge a little more.

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