SOS Presents MAST Mayflower Studios, Southampton David A Putley 26 January 2023
In 1977, at the height of the media frenzy concerning “Evitagate” search for a star, I was bought a Book called “Evita The Woman With The Whip” by Mary Maine. This told a totally different story to the regime decisions and pure nastiness that is only alluded to in the show as written, addressed slightly with the film. So, what we have is a kinder, almost affectionate interpretation of the individuals concerned.
And this is what sings through in this hugely innovative and enjoyable production under the expert direction of Victoria Luke and Musical Director Alex Teddy Clements. With minimal set, basically steps, utilising a screen for information pictures and dates, the singing and musicianship of the performers interpreting this wonderful score and lyrics are allowed to take centre stage.
So many good directorial touches including the 3 mistresses’ idea (the last mistress turning back to Che was so warmly tender), an exuberant interchangeable chorus who were all so “in the moment” throughout, the use of the bar and table settings at the front, costumes (apart from a skew-whiff military hat) authentic props (radio microphones etc) the seamless walking into positions by Che and others keeping a flow and style throughout have clearly been very well considered and planned. The last 20 minutes of the show I consider flawless; the changes of costume, the acting and final montage /lament being so well executed by all concerned.
None of the performers produced copycat performances of previous actors in their respective roles, finding their own interpretation in intonation. As Evita herself, Laura Hill sang brilliantly, the iconic Cry For Me song, You Must Love Me and the aforementioned Lament being particularly mentionable with excellent diction and comprehension of the lyric meaning. Giving Eva a more human touch was in keeping with the production values generally: no shrill coldness, but a more subtle revelation of guile for self-promotion which was skilfully done. The final matching pose against the portrait of the real Eva was quite emotionally beautiful.
Mike Pavitt as Peron matched her in high performance singing and presence: his half-smile gazing at her with a warm smile during “Cry For Me” was beguiling, revealing either love or political satisfaction in that look. Peron was well aware of her “product” popularity and the look captured that perfectly. The “Art of the Possible” number was so well directed and acted by all the participants, Peron’s removal of the final chair viciously triumphant. To pop a bottle of champagne on cue was also impressive and the “Surprisingly Good For You” duet was a delight.
Toby Vanhaecke as Che brought a less sardonic opposition than usually portrayed, going for an everyman interpretation with a vocal dexterity belying his age. He was on stage for virtually the entire show, off to the side lines manning the bar and positioning props, always there with a remark and observation, coat carrying etc with a marvellous Waltz for Eva and Che. The decision to go for non-real Che Guevara look allowed him to maximise his own characterisation, perfectly encapsulating a more wry, less confrontational on-looker. Diction and tone were perfect and he was not the least put off by various microphone issues which may have distracted even the more seasoned performer.
Liam Baker as Magaldi brought his excellent vocal talents to the role, expertly handling a guitar for “Night of A Thousand Stars” to Rich Spencer’s excellent instrument playing throughout. Magaldi, in line with the rest of the production, seemed less callous and empathetic than usually played, exhibiting genuine concern during “Beware of the City” and almost joy in re-uniting with Eva again later in her career at the Earthquake Concert.
The three Mistresses were excellent sung and acted for such minimal stage time in the scheme of things, Freya Golding, Jo Pawlowska and Jamie-Louise Sim, each bringing their own character forward and a real sense of melancholy to “Another Suitcase” lyrics not exploited before. I really enjoyed that. Choral singing and movement were consistently good throughout, finale Act 1 particularly, and the aristocratic removal of “riches” sequence a nice touch.
The band were so good, adding an extra layer of professionalism to this production in Alex Teddy Clememts’ capable and talented hands. Pace and interpretation were just sublime at times and I refer again to the last 20 minutes when everything seemed to come together in wonderful unison.
As an examination of history, this is a rose-tinted, almost warm and fuzzy portrayal of notorious people, but no less enjoyable for that, performed to a very high standard by all involved, Minimal niggles include a little “bundling on and off” of Eva’s coffin and female officers of the Military and Navy. (It was Eva who actually got votes for some women, raising female legitimacy to a status not known in the rest of South America. Her story is as much facing a political and social system dominated by men, as the military explain, “she has changed the rules”). But these are personal observations and did not detract much at all from the quality of presentation.
I have full admiration for SOS for taking on this iconic show and making such a success of it.