Arts Reviews

‘Sunset Boulevard’ @ Curve

Matthew Bird  

Streamed theatre is all the rage in the COVID-age of entertainment, but Curve in Leicester has redefined the very meaning of the term. Their concert production of Sunset Boulevard is available for just £20 to stream at home with performances until 9th January (audio description and subtitles available). This is no traditional theatre stream, nor is it what you’d expect from a concert production. It is no less than revolutionary.

If lockdown has taught us anything, it’s that audiences have an appetite for theatre streamed directly to their TV. Typically, these shows are the standard production but filmed with several cameras. Curve’s Sunset Boulevard In Concert breaks tradition with their production made specifically to be streamed.

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Sunset Boulevard, based on the 1950 film of the same name, has lyrics by Don Black and Christopher Hampton. Set in 1940s Hollywood, the story is one of “romance and obsession” with the once-famed Norma Desmond right at the centre. It has everything one could ask of a Lloyd Webber musical: catchy songs, a dramatic story, compelling characters, and a dose of romance.

Curve’s main auditorium and studio have been combined to create a 360° performance space designed by Colin Richmond. The 16-piece orchestra is socially distanced amongst the auditorium seats. The show was recorded on the 18th and 19th of December with COVID-safe measures in place.

The cameras, technical equipment and staff (wearing face masks) are often on show, but Ben Cracknell’s lighting design and Jordan Dean’s photography direction ensure the viewer is never in doubt of where to look. Overlays are superimposed on the image occasionally to indicate location changes and movement. It would have been easy to overuse these, but they were well used.

The show primarily takes place on the central stage, but significant quantities are performed elsewhere in the auditorium. The balcony area becomes the landing and staircase of 10086 Sunset Boulevard. The underside of the studio seating becomes Paramount’s backlot. They even have the rafters act as a bedroom.

It is this use of the whole theatre which makes the production so unique. This isn’t Nikolai Foster (director) attempting to recreate his 2017 Curve production. He has fully embraced the situation and turned it into something utterly stunning.

Ria Jones luxuriates in her return to the role Norma Desmond, a fictional star from the Silent Era of film. Jones successfully captures Norma’s eccentricity without falling into caricature. Her renditions of With One Look and As If We Never Said Goodbye are amongst the many highlights of the show.

Curve stalwart Danny Mac reprises his role as the jaded screenwriter Joe Gillis. Although excellent in the 2017 production, he brought more charm to the role this time, making for an even more enjoyable performance.

It has everything one could ask of a Lloyd Webber musical: catchy songs, a dramatic story, compelling characters, and a dose of romance

Molly Lynch and Adam Pearce were equally stunning in their roles as naïve screenwriter Betty Schafer and Norma’s attendant Max Von Mayerling. The supporting cast along with Lee Proud’s choreography propelled the story forward despite social distancing being required.

Having seen the 2017 Curve production of Sunset, I knew what to expect in terms of the music and story. ‘In Concert’ productions typically entail performers singing at mic stands at the front of the stage with stripped-down choreography and staging. This was not that. The only thing that really differed from traditional productions was the lack of a full set and the use of the whole theatre.

The supporting cast along with Lee Proud’s choreography propelled the story forward despite social distancing being required

Overall, the innovative staging did not detract from the show. If anything, it drew me in closer to the performances of the cast without being distracted by stage cars and flashy sets. There was an amusing moment in The Lady’s Paying where the tailors were measuring Mac’s arms and legs but at a 2m distance, which gave Mac’s movements a marionette like quality. The final scene was also made somewhat ambiguous by the staging. These moments, however, did not affect my overall enjoyment of the show.

I have never seen a show like this, but I truly hope that more theatres follow on with what Curve has started. This well could be the start of a new era of theatre.

Matthew Bird

Featured image courtesy of Royal Opera House Covent Garden via Flickr. Image license found here. No changes made to this image.

In-article images courtesy of @curve_leicester via No changes made to these images.

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