Oh What a Circus! Oh What a Show! – Evita at the Birmingham Hippodrome

Evita UK Tour - Madalena Alberto as Eva - credit Keith Pattison

Of all the shows I’ve seen over my year with the Birmingham Hippodrome, Evita is probably the one that has surprised me most of all. From what I’d heard and what I thought I knew about it, I really didn’t expect to enjoy it very much, but I couldn’t have been more wrong.

I’d seen a little of the film before, but quite a long time ago, and only really enough to get a sense of there being a lot of Madonna in it. It didn’t really interest me much. What I discovered at the Hippodrome on Wednesday night, however, is that Evita is a fascinating and deeply political story, presented in a very interesting way. Rather than this being – as I had suspected – a show that idolises and idealises its title character, it is a thoughtful and often critical look at that very culture of celebrity idolisation.

Evita UK Tour - Mark Heenehan as Peron and Madalena Alberto as Eva - credit Keith PattisonThe fact that Eva is an actress by trade, and someone who has more than once “re-created” herself, casts into doubt the authenticity of her adopted role as Argentina’s saviour, as does much of her behaviour  – her taste for expensive clothes, for example, or her “welfare by lottery” reforms. Eva Péron “performs” Evita, in much the same way as Madalena Alberto performs Eva, and it’s this that makes her such a brilliant subject for an elaborate stage show. There’s a constant tension in both the story and the design between reality and fantasy, surface and depth, as well as a sense that every successful political campaign is a kind of show, not dissimilar to the one we’re watching. This results in some very “meta” moments, most notably when Eva sings the iconic “Don’t Cry For Me Argentina”, just after Péron’s election victory. When she emerges onstage above us, breathtaking in a gorgeous, glittering ballgown that seems to light up the entire room, it’s next to impossible not to be swept up in the magic and glamour of the moment. As she looks down at the audience from her balcony, we become the adoring Argentinian masses: yet, just before we’re able to get too lost in the spectacle, the revolutionary Ché appears as the voice of reason, pulling us back down to reality.

Ché’s oddly chirpy-sounding numbers unfortunately don’t have quite the same power as the soaring songs in the rest of the show, but he’s an interesting character nonetheless. You’re never quite sure who he is or where you stand with him. Is he Ché Guevara, somehow projected back from the future? Is he there to represent the Argentinian masses, or the audience? Is he Eva’s conscience or just a hallucination? Is he simply a narrator, all of those things, or something else entirely? It’s possible that all this ambiguity is partly a result of this particular production being quite a short, cut-down version of the original play, but either way, we don’t necessarily need to have definite answers for it to work.

Evita UK Tour - Marti Pellow as Che 2 - credit Keith PattisonMadalena Alberto is magnificent as Eva, capturing the character’s youth and vulnerability as well as her power and intelligence. Thanks to Matthew Wright’s amazing costume work, her sparkling white dress is just one of many beautiful outfits that she and the other women appear in. There are also some excellent performances from Nic Gibney as Magaldi and (sadly rather briefly) from Sarah McNicholas as Péron’s mistress. The ensemble cast are great all round, including the child actors, one of whom delivered an incredibly assured and professional solo. One small criticism I had was an apparent clash in singing styles: some cast members have a much more pronounced vibrato than others. While there’s not necessarily a problem with either style, it would have been better to have kept things consistent throughout.

As we’ve come to expect at the Hippodrome, too, the choreography is absolutely spot on. There are some wonderful set pieces, particularly “Péron’s Latest Flame” (which closed the first half), where upper class ladies and high-ranking soldiers frown on Péron’s and Eva’s budding relationship.

With its self-awareness, complex politics and clever characterisation, Evita is much more layered than your average West End musical, without sacrificing any of the more straightforward entertainment that other popular stage shows can offer. This production is well designed and perfectly paced, and is one I’d definitely recommend!

Evita UK Tour 2013 - credit Keith Pattison

Photographs by Keith Pattison.

 

New Season Launch – Autumn and Winter at the Birmingham Hippodrome

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After the fabulous free theatre we’ve enjoyed over the last few weeks across Birmingham’s city centre, the summer may finally be over, but the fun is far from it! The Birmingham Hippodrome has just announced a new season packed full of all sorts of exciting shows to brighten up the cold, dark winter days!

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18389_sFrom October through to Spring next year, you’ll be able to enjoy a range of smash-hit musicals, National Theatre shows on tour, contemporary dance, world-class opera and ballet from the Birmingham Royal Ballet and the Welsh National Opera, and of course, the return of the world’s biggest pantomime this Christmas.

The new season kicks off next month with the Birmingham Royal Ballet’s ‘Still Life’ at the Penguin Café, E=MC² and Tombeaux (3-5 October) and later The Sleeping Beauty, (8-12 October) followed by the National Theatre’s War Horse (16 October – 9 November). If you want to get yourself some War Horse tickets, act fast, since the show is almost sold out already!

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Alongside the War Horse run, two additional special events will be taking place: Only Remembered (Friday 8th November), a concert featuring live readings from the original War Horse novel by its author Michael Morpurgo and music from John Tams and Barry Coope, and a War Horse-themed sleepover (Friday 25th October) that will see the Patrick Centre transformed into World War I-style trenches.

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Towards the end of the month, there will be more opportunities to experience free outdoor shows in Birmingham. Make sure you wrap up warm for Illuminate! (25-27 October) a three-day light spectacular featuring interactive street projections from Shanghai, dance performances and The Lanterns of Terracotta Warriors, an extraordinary exhibition originally created for the Beijing Olympics.

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Throughout November, the Welsh National Opera will present Giacomo Puccini’s Tosca (12 & 16 November) and Gaetano Donizetti’s new Tudors series: Anna Bolena (13 November), Maria Stuarda (14 November) and Roberto Devereux (15 November). 

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As Christmas approaches, the Hippodrome will be helping you to get into the festive spirit with a Birmingham Royal Ballet production of The Nutcracker (22 November – 12 December), as well as its excellent, all-star pantomime Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs (19 December – 2 February). This year’s panto will star Gok Wan, Stephanie Beacham, Gary Wilmot, John Partridge and winner of the BBC’s Over the Rainbow series Danielle Hope.

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February is a great month to catch some ballet at the Hippodrome, with two more productions from the Birmingham Royal Ballet (Three of a Kind from 19-22 February and The Prince of the Pagodas from 25 February – 1 March), as well as Matthew Bourne’s Swan Lake (5-15 February).

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Meanwhile, March is the month for music, with three WNO operas and two exciting musicals.  The Welsh National Opera will present Giuseppe Verdi’s La Traviata (4 & 8 March) as well as two brand new productions, Manon Lescaut (5 & 7 March) and Boulevard Solitude (6 March). From 11-15 March, award-winning producers Music & Lyrics will be presenting their take on Fiddler on the Roof, starring Paul Michael Glaser and, towards the end of the month, the theatre’s stage will be flooded with 12,000 litres of water every night as part of its Singin’ in the Rain performances (18 March – 5 April), starring Maxwell Caulfield and Faye Tozer.

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In April, Wet, Wet, Wet frontman Marti Pellow will star in Evita (8-19 April), while a brand new musical based on the classic TV series Happy Days will star Sugababes’ Heidi Range (22-26 April). The Happy Days musical is written by the series’ creator Gary Marshall, with creative consultancy from Henry Winkler, TV’s original “Fonz”.

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May sees the return of the biennial International Dance Fest Birmingham, co-produced by the Hippodrome and DanceXchange. The festival will kick off with Sideways Rain (29-30 April) by Genevan contemporary dance company Alias, and will also include Sidi Larbi Cherkaoui’s M!longa  (23-24 May), international hip-hop festival Breakin’ Convention (20-21 May), a new adaptation of William Golding’s The Lord of the Flies by Matthew Bourne (14-17 May) and a performance from acclaimed ballerina Sylvie Guillem in 6,000 Miles Away (6-7 May). Bourne’s new production will feature young New Adventures dancers from the West Midlands as part of efforts to inspire a new generation to get involved in dance. 

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As Spring leads on into summer, the National Theatre‘s five-star comedy feast, One Man, Two Guv’nors will arrive in Birmingham (26-31 May), providing an excellent opportunity to catch this highly-praised production if you missed it in London. One Man, Two Guv’nors is an adaptation of Carlo Goldoni’s classic 1743 comedy The Servant of Two Masters, reimagined in 1960s Brighton by Richard Bean.

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So it comes full circle back to summer. Next summer’s big musical show will be Wicked (9 July – 6 September). It may seem a long way to plan ahead, but tickets for Wicked are already being snapped up by audiences. In September, the Hippodrome will also be showing Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats. Check back here for details about when tickets go on sale.

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To book tickets and for more information, visit the Birmingham Hippodrome website.

Happy watching!