I adore Birmingham Hippodrome. Granted, I’m not the most well-versed theatre critic, however there is something rather decadent about settling yourselves into the plush red seats ready to absorb an hour or three of theatrical roguery.
Hurling ourselves into the world of 1940s Argentinean politics, it is the opening night for Evita – the long running musical written by Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber, that focuses on the life and untimely death of Argentinean political and social icon Eva Perón.
Church pillars and weeping mourners set the scene as Eva Perón’s casket is brought onto the stage. It is during this opening sequence that we meet the three key performers for the evening. Che, played by Gian Marco Schiaretti, is our narrator; sporting a black flat cap, he ponders the true motives behind Evita’s charity and her rise from poverty to political aristocracy. Next is her husband, Juan Perón, who is brought to life with military precision by Jeremy Secomb.
And finally, silhouetted against a portrait donning the church walls, is Evita herself. Madalena Alberto has had plenty of practice in this role since her critically acclaimed performance in the West End revival of Evita back in 2014, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed. As the lead role, Alberto is simply captivating throughout the entire production – from the sprightly 15 year old who runs away with tango singer Agustín Magaldi to Buenos Aires, to the blonde, sophisticated flame of Juan Perón, her impeccable acting skills pay tribute to the late First Lady with class and demeanour I could only wish to have.
The first half shows Evita’s lust for power, as she slowly makes her way to the top of the social ladder in Buenos Aires. At a time where sexual promiscuity was considered sinful and wretched, watching Evita manipulate various lovers to obtain social power was truly entertaining, especially when coupled with the song ‘Goodnight and Thank You’.
This rise to stardom results in her colliding with Juan Perón at a charity concert, and after seducing him with the promise of becoming an asset to his career they soon become an item. The stage glides to and fro as balconies are pushed forwards and backwards for different scenes, from the staging of a military coup using musical chairs during ‘The Art of the Possible’ to the energetic choreography of ‘Eva, Beware of the City’, the cast make use of every inch of the Hippodrome stage with minimal props.
Following an interval (and a glass or two of wine) we returned to the reveal of Juan Perón’s successful election as Prime Minister, with Evita delivering a powerful speech as the First Lady bedecked in a glittering white ball gown. The second half passes in the blink of an eye, as we witness Evita embark on her renowned ‘Rainbow Tour’ of Europe without her husband, and her resulting ill health. Despite this, she seemingly perseveres with her saintly actions, setting up a charity and literally showering her supporters with money.
This is where Che truly comes into form – stripping back the glamour that Evita covers herself with, he reveals a woman spurned by political aristocracy who has carefully moulded the Argentinean people into supporters for her husband. Sombre and lonely, he narrates Evita’s life as she tirelessly works to prove herself as a saint not only to Juan Perón and her critics, but to the people of the world. The scenes surrounding her demise and following death are truly heart wrenching – the performances given by both Secomb and Alberto are harrowingly beautiful as Evita laments for the life she could have lived, had she not pursued fame and glory.
True, the production is somewhat lacking in what my mother would describe as ‘fancy stuff’. But that is the beauty of a theatrical piece such as Evita – it simply is not needed. Props and lights could never replace what this cast deliver, which is a highly emotionally performance guaranteed to resonate, to some extent at least, with anyone who is lucky enough to see it.
Evita runs at the Birmingham Hippodrome until Saturday 24th March. For direct show information, including a full breakdown of dates, times and online ticket purchasing, visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com/calendar/evita
For more on the Birmingham Hippodrome, including venue details and further event listings, visit www.birminghamhippodrome.com