Monday, 20 March 2017

Theatre review: The Kid Stays in the Picture

Telling a true story that features more than a couple of troubled movie productions, The Kid Stays in the Picture has had some teething problems of its own. Simon McBurney and James Yeatman's adaptation of Hollywood producer Robert Evans' memoirs had to cancel its first few previews and postpone press night to tonight. Whether this was down to technical glitches in the multimedia - of which there were still a few in evidence - or the format of the show not coming together I don't know, and to be honest would believe either. Evans started his cinematic career as an actor, one given a chance by a couple of powerful producers who went against the advice of actors and directors to cast him in major roles (the title is a quote from Darryl F. Zanuck putting his foot down.) As it turns out the directors were right, the producers were wrong, and Evans was a critical flop in both his big movies.

But the failure of his acting career didn't bother him as he'd now set his sights on being the next Zanuck - the producer with the power to overrule everyone else. His career included numerous classics and he was credited with saving Paramount Pictures, but once he started putting his own money into films his golden touch left him.

In McBurney's staging, Christian Camargo plays Evans for the most part, although the ensemble cast provides a lot of his narration as well, and Danny Huston reads in that of the older Evans, looking back on his life from hospital following a series of strokes. The cast play a series of famous producers, screenwriters, directors, actors and even Henry Kissinger, who repaid a favour to Evans by turning up to provide some star power to The Godfather's world premiere after Marlon Brando refused to show up. (Evans' inability to understand Clint Dyer's mumbling Brando got one of the night's biggest laughs, while Heather Burns multitasks as everyone from the teenage Robert to Mia Farrow.)

There's a lot of use of live video projection, recreating film sets and exotic locations, and closeups on props that are interesting to start with, but the visual ideas become quite repetitive, which exposes the fact that this isn't so much a narrative as a series of anecdotes strung together. They're entertaining enough anecdotes, but what may have been a shocking exposé of Hollywood in the early nineties seems fairly tame now, and trying to build a story around the charmless Camargo (whom I haven't forgiven for his part in The Bridge Project's terrible middle year) isn't a great way of getting us to care.

The show's publicity has made a big deal of Danny Huston, whose father worked with the real Evans, joining the cast, so it seems perverse to have him appear almost entirely in silhouette, against a screen at the back of Anna Fleischle's set. You only see him properly in the final moments and at the bows, and in his voiceovers he sounds so much like Peter Serafinowicz I thought maybe he'd been secretly replaced and that was the technical issue. It's not a good sign how much of the show I spent trying to figure out what delayed the opening, is it? The whole script appears on a teleprompter, so I wondered if quite simply nobody had managed to learn their lines. And then there's the times the video feed acted up, which is likely the real reason for it all.

Although with entertaining moments, this isn't really a fresh story, and without a real spark in the way it's told, I was left wondering why it was being told on stage at all.

The Kid Stays in the Picture by Simon McBurney and James Yeatman, based on the book by Robert Evans, is booking until the 8th of April at the Royal Court's Jerwood Theatre Downstairs.

Running time: 2 hours 25 minutes including interval.

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