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Theatre review: Evita

Exciting and relevant: Samantha Pauly as Eva Peron and (below) Ektor Rivera as dictator Juan
PICTURE: MARC BRENNER

REVIEW

Evita

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre ★★★★★

SHE’S back — but not as you know her. From the opening moment when the First Lady of Argentina stumbles, broken and exhausted, into the mass hysteria surrounding her death — a ghost at her own funeral — Jamie Lloyd’s production thrillingly reinvigorates the Lloyd Webber/Rice musical.

In a staging that is sexy, full-blooded and furious, Lloyd rubs our faces in the horror behind the glamour and mythology that made Eva Peron, wife of corrupt military dictator Juan, into an icon.

It becomes the story not just of one clever, ruthlessly ambitious woman, but of the dangerous, seductive power of populism. Suddenly it’s heart-stoppingly exciting and evisceratingly relevant.

On Soutra Gilmour’s set of steep bleachers and rusted letters spelling Evita’s name, Fabian Aloise’s choreography gives us knife-sharp tangos and punchy athleticism. It’s like a volatile political rally; smoke bombs and ticker tape thicken the air.

And Samantha Pauly’s Eva, wiry and wild-haired in a white slip, is so beguiling and mighty-voiced a heroine that we would gladly follow her into class warfare — that is, until we see what becomes of her opponents.

Trent Saunders as sardonic narrator Che, ironically wearing the student revolutionary attire of a Che Guevara T-shirt, suffers sickening brutality for his truth-telling.

Eva literally crawls over bodies in pursuit of her goals, but when she’s dying of cancer, Ektor Rivera’s smooth Juan abruptly abandons her. This familiar favourite has never felt so potent. Stunning.