Jamie Lloyd’s production is a vivid and raw interpretation of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical.
What makes this production of Sunset Boulevard so captivating and intriguing to watch from start to finish is the way in which it all plays out almost like a film noir itself, a thriller that keeps you on the edge of your seat. The striking lighting, the black and whiteness of it all and use of video is a powerful way to ensure the story appeals to new audiences.
Based on the Billy Wilder film, Sunset Boulevard is a story that follows struggling writer Joe Gillis who finds himself at former Hollywood star Norma Desmond’s house and helping her to edit and write a script for her ‘return’ to cinema screens. It is a deeply tragic story of dashed dreams and fickle nature of fame that still feels as fresh as ever, even to the extent in this production it feels increasingly operatic as it reaches its climax – particularly when enhanced by the lush performance from the orchestra of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score.
Director Jamie Lloyd, by keeping the staging simple, it pulls all the focus onto the characters with the help innovative use of live video to ensure that all the key characters have their close ups to add an even deeper psychological edge to the story. Nathan Amzi and Joe Ransom’s video design and cinematography is elegant and striking, making you feel as though a film is playing out as opposed to a theatre production, highlighted perfectly in the gorgeously haunting opening scene. Soutra Gilmour’s set and costume designs don’t detract from the story telling, ensuring the focus is on the characters, while Jack Knowles’s lighting design is haunting and plays into the noir vibe .There is a delicious psychological darkness to the whole show that keeps the audience enthralled as it delves deeply into Norma’s obsession with fame with tragic consequences, which even seeps through to Fabian Aloise’s sharp choreography that is sleekly performed by the cast and moves the story on effortlessly.
But the darkness is balanced out perfectly by touches of humour to be found here and there in the unlikeliest of places as well. The opening of the second act which sees Tom Francis’s Joe wondering backstage of the theatre before emerging on the Strand has some really nice touches to it to help break the tension slightly and yet still set up what is about to happen perfectly, while the way in which the ending is staged completely caught me (and probably many others) off guard.
At the centre of it all though, Nicole Scherzinger is an incredible Norma – she balances the delicate vulnerability of the character along with an increasing will of iron strength perfectly, leaving the audience on edge as to what she truly is capable of. There is a calmness to her Norma, which is unnerving in many ways -as is the touches of humour as seen when Joe tries to explain that she doesn’t need to be in every scene and she retorts ‘that’s what people have paid to see’, with a self-knowing look at the audience that can’t fail to make us chuckle. Vocally, she delivers plenty of memorable moments, with her rendition of ‘With One Look’ proving to be a real highlight but there are occasions when some of the endings to her notes could be a touch softer.
There is also fantastic performances to be found elsewhere including David Thaxton as Max, who will do anything to protect Norma. Thaxton delivers a wonderful performance that is feeds in well to the central characters of Norma and Joe, while his rendition of ‘The Greatest Star of All’ leaves chills. Tom Francis as Joe is equally as captivating as he soon finds himself caught up in a situation that he can’t get out of and makes unintentional sacrifices and Grace Hodgett Young is a charming and confident Betty.
This is a fresh and vibrant reimagining of this musical that will stay with you long after it has finished.
By Emma Clarendon
Sunset Boulevard continues to play at the Savoy Theatre until the 6th January 2024. To book tickets click here.