Commanding performances on stage in Evita

Emma Hatton in Evita
Emma Hatton in Evita

Theatre review by Hannah Richardson

There was plenty of star quality on show in Bill Kenwright’s production of Evita, which returned to Milton Keynes Theatre this week.

Gian Marco Schiaretti as Che

Gian Marco Schiaretti as Che

Following a smash hit run at London’s Dominion Theatre, the Tim Rice and Andrew Lloyd Webber musical is now on tour in MK until Saturday.

The show tells the story of Eva Perón, wife of former Argentine dictator Juan Perón. Evita follows Eva’s journey from humble beginnings through to extraordinary wealth, power and iconic status which ultimately lead her to be heralded as the ‘spiritual leader of the nation’ by the Argentine people.

Taking on the role of Eva is Emma Hatton, who recently starred as Elphaba in the West End production of Wicked.

It’s a monumental role, and she handled it very well indeed, convincing from the off as a fun-loving but already determined teenage Eva, who then manouevres herself ever onwards and upwards via a series of strategic seductions, until she finally nets herself a powerful general and uses her position to seduce a whole nation.

Hatton looks every inch the part – the actress turned politician, the people’s princess with a core of steel, and a certain stubborn set of the mouth that reminded me not a little of Theresa May.

It was a commanding performance, with superb renditons of Eva’s big numbers, including the famous Don’t Cry for me Argentina, and a very moving portrayal of Eva’s decline into illness and fragility.

But stealing the limelight in this production was the Italian performer Gian Marco Schiaretti, who plays the role of Che with extraordinary stage presence, a gorgeous singing voice and (wonderful in a narrator) superb diction. Not to mention Italian good looks and a mesmerising gaze. Previously unknown to me, he is listed in the programme notes as a concert performer who has played Tarzan in the Disney musical in Stuttgart and Mercutio in Romeo and Juliet in Italy. Definitely one to watch.

Sarah O’Connor gave a moving performance in the cameo role of Perón’s Mistress, abruptly ousted by the ambitious Eva. Standing in unbelieving stunned silence as she is told to leave, O’Connor was every inch the traumatised teenager, trying to come to terms with the fact she’s been used then dumped by an older man. When she eventually found her voice, it turned out to be one of great sweetness and clarity, giving a poignant rendition of the classic Another Suitcase, Another Hall.

Special mention must also go to Lily Harvey, the child soloist on the night, from MK’s Arts1 School of Peformance, who gave a spine-tinglingly honest and unvarnished rendition of Santa Evita, devoid of any ‘stage school’ affectation.

Naturally, not everything on the night was perfect. As so often, the orchestra, conducted on this occasion by Richard Morris, drowned out some of the singing.

And I don’t understand why Kevin Stephen-Jones, in the role of Perón, chose to speak rather than sing many of his lines in the second half of the show. For me, it somewhat marred the vocal intimacy between him and Evita.

But overall, this production felt like a return to the ‘good old days’ of musical theatre – good acting, good singing and great entertainment. Definitely worth a watch.

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