THIS IS not the Royal Court’s first foray into cinema. Last year, Anthony Nielson’s play Unreachable, with Matt Smith as a monumentally egotistical movie director, satirised the narcissism of the film industry, though not without being fatally narcissistic itself. Take two: Simon McBurney and James Yeatman’s adaptation of film producer Robert Evans’s 1994 memoir is a stunningly staged story on the man behind some of the greatest movies ever made — and one or two flops — .
Even at two hours twenty minutes, it’s a heavily sieved version of Evans’s life. He started out as Robert Shapera before Evans’s father, a dentist, decided to put his sons on the path of least (antisemitic) resistance by changing their surnames — ironic, considering that the people who propelled Evans’s career were some of the most powerful Jews in Hollywood.
Though his acting talent was limited, Evans played Irving Thalberg in a biopic about the producer. And, against the wishes of Ava Gardner and Ernest Hemingway, who were dead against Evans being cast in Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, Darryl F. Zanuck bellowed through a loudspeaker on set that “the kid stays in the picture”, which is the moment Evans realised where the power lay.
With an instinct for the unexpected and an understanding that the star of every great film is not the actor but the story, his rise as a producer was meteoric. So was his fall from Para- mount when, with four of his seven marriages behind him (including one to Ali McGraw), he was convicted of cocaine trafficking.
But, as if realising the deadly dull potential of biopics, McBurney’s production resorts to a blizzard of brilliantly realised stagecraft techniques, developed, it has to be said, in earlier productions by director Katie Mitchell’s “live cinema” methods. Projected live video feeds transport the action from Hollywood to film locations, and the ensemble cast speak their lines into microphones like radio actors, and then slip into and out of iconic Hollywood roles — Coppola, Brando, Cagney…
Being co-produced by the 86-yearold Evans himself, this show could also be accused of having an abundance of self-adoration. But the secrets Evans instinctively learned are worth knowing: that the best and
Christian Camargo in