Review: Sunset Boulevard – Mayflower Theatre

Its not often I go to the theatre and know literally nothing about the show I’m watching. There are usually songs I’m aware of or someone in it I know from some TV show. Tonight was the first time I’ve gone to see something completely ignorant to it; I had no idea what to expect.

From the get go Sunset Boulevard was incredibly dramatic, very visual and somewhat operatic. I guess what you come to expect from a Lloyd Webber show.

The story is centered around a movie studio and it’s many regulars. It’s the story of Norma Desmond, a silent movie star who lives in her own fantasy world, desperate to get back into the movies that she loved so much.  Young script writer Joe Gillis accidentally ends up in her mansion when he is running from debtors who are after his car. With the pretense of using him as a writer on her screenplay he ends up stuck in her house in a strange relationship based on money. Norma is a very intense character and goes to great lengths to make sure Joe never leaves her ending in tragic consequences.

Filled with glamour and the excitement of Hollywood in the early ’50s Sunset Boulevard is a fabulously glitzy tribute to those old time movies and the impact ‘talkies’ had on the stars of the day.

Sunset Boulevard had a live orchestra in the theatre and hearing them tune up before the show was a delight. Having so many musicians playing these songs the way they should be heard added more feeling, emotion and depth to the show.

The danger with watching a show set in America featuring a cast of UK performers is them not sounding convincing and their accents dropping. This was not the case last night, the cast were unbelievable. Ria Jones who played Norma was possibly one of the best actors I’ve seen on the Mayflower stage. She was captivating and every song she sang was filled with emotion. She managed to play vulnerable and completely crazy all at the same time.

Ria was an understudy to Meryl Streep’s Norma in the London revival of Sunset and received a 6 minute standing ovation when she had to cover for her. This was calming a largely hostile crowd who had paid insane amounts of money to see Miss Streep play the iconic part, no mean feat for any performer. This carried on for every performance she did so it’s come as no surprise that she is playing the part in her own right on this tour.

Similarly Dougie Carter who was playing Joe was amazing. His rendition of ‘Sunset Boulevard’ was for me the highlight of the show.

If you’re going to the theatre to watch something lighthearted and come away uplifted, this is not the show for you. Sunset Boulevard is. as I said, incredibly intense. Mostly songs and not a lot of dialogue, which you do expect from Lloyd Webber, it is quite a heavy show. It’s a dark story and very dramatic. Language in it and some of the subject matter makes it not suitable for young audiences. Operatic in some parts it won’t be to every ones taste.

I really enjoyed it. I was moved by the story and the performances.


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