The Theatreguide.London Review
Stays In The Picture
Royal Court Theatre Spring 2017
The Kid Stays In The Picture is the biography of a man you are likely to find unsympathetic and uninteresting. Its theatrical power lies almost entirely in the inventive presentation of the story.
Robert Evans was a former pretty-boy actor who inexplicably found himself the head of Paramount Pictures in 1967, and for the next 15 years or so oversaw such film successes as Rosemary's Baby, Love Story, The Godfather and Chinatown.
His glory days came at the junction of the sexual revolution of the 1960s and the cocaine culture of the 1970s and, although this version of his story downplays it a bit, he lived high in all senses of the word.
In the 1980s he ran afoul of studio politics, was convicted for possession of wholesale quantities of cocaine (and let off lightly), and was peripherally and innocently connected to a Hollywood murder case, further crippling his career.
Evans wrote his memoirs in 1994 (the title coming from his early acting days when a director wanted to fire him and the studio head intervened), produced and narrated a quasi-documentary film version in 2002, and is one of the producers of this stage adaptation.
Director Simon McBurney, adapting the text with James Yeatman, turns Evans' story into a splintered jumble of stage images and constantly shifting identities.
Each of the eight actors in the cast takes a turn being Evans, sometimes switching in mid-sentence, while also playing Everyone Else. (Among the production's incidental pleasures are wicked and strikingly accurate vocal impersonations of Brando, Farrow, Polanski, Sinatra, Kissinger and others.)
Most of the narrative, also divided among the actors, is spoken while standing at stage microphones, as in a radio broadcast, while a roving video camera projects skewed-angled images of the actors onto a large screen, so that a figure standing in profile on one side of the stage is seen head-on at the rear.
The screen is also used for still photos of some characters mentioned in passing and for clips from Evans-produced movies.
Some of this is tellingly effective, like having an actress in male drag play the handsome young Evans, and the constantly shifting sands do give a sense of both the dreamlike unreality of Hollywood and the fragility of careers there.
But mainly Simon McBurney's adaptation and direction are a celebration of Simon McBurney's cleverness, a lot of razzle-dazzle for its own sake.
Like most razzle-dazzle, it is fun for a while, but you eventually begin to sense how empty much of it is, and how uninteresting is the story it has been distracting us from.
The hard-working cast and the many designers and techies involved in creating the inventive stage pictures are all deserving of praise, and their contributions make you wish it had all been in the service of material more worthy.
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