The Kid Stays in the Picture at the Royal Court Theatre
The life of legendary producer Robert Evans is ripe for adaptation – so much so that it has already been a book, a film and the inspiration for an episode of cult US series Documentary Now! It is also a sublimely ridiculous choice for Complicite’s next production, Simon McBurney and co using the story of a consummate movie man to show off just how exciting modern theatre can be.
The Kid Stays in the Picture does away with a “traditional” set, designer Anna Fleischle opting to place its theatricality front and centre; there are a few microphone stands, a glass box-cum-screen, a mini-fridge and not much else. Clips from Evans’s films – The Godfather, Chinatown, Rosemary’s Baby – merge with scene-recreations and lip-syncs, layering performance over performance so that it both celebrates and skews the art-form it is re-enacting.
One of the boldest choices is to have Danny Huston largely absent from view. Huston – playing the older, omnipotent Evans – mainly appears as a berobed silhouette, redolent of the Wizard of Oz. Soaked in whiskey and cigar smoke his voice is like a gravelly aural massage, bringing an acute sense of pathos to the piece, especially as McBurney blurs time, space, fiction and reality towards the end.
With Huston hidden a hell of a lot is asked of the rest of the ensemble. Thomas Arnold takes on a series of larger-than-life characters, from the bombastic mogul Charles Bluhdorn to charismatic war criminal Henry Kissinger. There is a danger these man’s men could blur into one; yet Arnold makes each a unique, fatherly figure who help elevate Evans to the top of the Paramount mountain. Heather Burns is similarly exquisite, first as the younger Evans, a cocksure hustler and middling actor, then as Love Story star, and the producer’s ex-wife, Ali MacGraw, a flower child inevitably disappointed by her neglectful husband.
Christian Camargo has the most substantial role as the physical embodiment of peak-Evans, the man who ushers in an era of unparalleled Hollywood achievement before blowing it on hubris and, well, blow. Though Camargo initially has a tough job matching Huston’s sonic delight, he excels in the second act, cutting an increasingly desperate figure as his character’s life unravels.
For a production so indebted to cinema it’s fitting that The Kid Stays in the Picture has a Citizen Kane vibe, the grandness of the newspaper world swapped for New Hollywood’s golden years. What makes this quintessentially American rags-to-riches (to more expensive rags) story such a joy, however, is the marriage of chameleonic cast and thrillingly European staging.
Photo: Johan Persson
The Kid Stays in the Picture is at the Royal Court Theatre from 11th March until 8th April 2017, for further information or to book visit here.