Review – Lust, fading fame andmadness in Tinseltown

2013-09-08 14:00

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Norma Desmond is the role of a lifetime and Angela Killian gives the performance of a career in the “bonsai” version of Sunset Boulevard.

What’s more, Killian’s performance stands out in a cast of standout performances – including Jonathan Roxmouth as Joe Gillis, James Borthwick as Max and Bethany Dickson as Betty.

With a cast of just 16, there is no room for slackers and the perfectly rehearsed cast is constantly on the move – whether in a scene or seamlessly relocating props and scenery for the next one.

Director Paul Warwick Griffin has perfected the “bonsai” musical – which he has proved over and over again with the likes of Jesus Christ Superstar, Chess and Evita. Evita also starred Killian and she took away the relevant silverware for that performance.

She will be needing more space in her cabinet for awards after this performance.

This Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, with book and lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton, is one of his later ones, making its stage debut 20 years ago.

It, unlike its fading protagonist, stands the test of time. Though over the two-hour mark, the time steals away like it does when any great story is being told.

Based on Billy Wilder’s 1950 film of the same name that starred Gloria Swanson and William Holden, it captures a wisp of Hollywood’s silent era in a story that is in equal measure poignant and tragic.

Gillis is a young writer on the hustle for his next writing job and while dodging a pair of goons looking to repossess his car, he swings into the empty garage of a great crumbling mansion on Sunset Boulevard.

There he’s confronted with the silent-film era’s biggest star, Norma. A combination of despair and opportunism charms him into staying to work on Norma’s “comeback” (though she prefers the term “return”) script about Salome.

The two soon begin an affair rooted in mutual desperation rather than passion that is headed for an unhappy ending.

Along with the outstanding performances, the staging, wardrobe and lighting of this production are quite spectacular. The stage is simple, yet with just a few adjustments, the scene is that of a huge, lonely house – one with an air of neglect and madness where a woman’s sanity has fled her reality.

With a few more adjustments, the cast are on the set of a film with Cecil B DeMille, or Gillis is sipping martinis beside a pool before belting out the show’s theme song, Sunset Boulevard. One of the smartest moves is the use of a curved material screen, with the dual purpose of creating rooms on stage as well as giving the production a filmic quality.

Sunset Boulevard is a powerful play set to music that tells a universal story that is very much rooted in a moment in film history.

Everyone who has ever loved a film will love this, anyone who has ever been a fan will love this, and it is a triumph of South African stagecraft. I hadn’t seen it staged before, but I will be back for an encore.

» Sunset Boulevard is on at Montecasino’s Pieter Toerien Theatre until October 20

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