Sunset Boulevard at Savoy Theatre
They’ve done it again: Jamie Lloyd Company brings to the stage a commanding show marked by the fascination of cinematic effects, the resounding thundering of the orchestra and the emotional buildup of live performances. Merging form with narrative, the theatre company’s productions adopt distinct styles and storytelling channels, all with equal potency.
Norma Desmond (Nicole Scherzinger) is a once-glamorous silent-film star, now largely forgotten by her fans and out of work, living on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles. Joe Gillis (Tom Francis), a struggling screenwriter, is trying his luck at Paramount Studios. While escaping some of his creditors, Gillis unexpectedly finds himself at Norma’s mansion, overseen and maintained by Max Von Mayerling (David Thaxton), the diva’s devoted assistant. Planning a comeback to the silver screen, the actress has penned a script about Salomè and enlists Joe to rework it for the studios. The relationship between the two grows increasingly contorted as feelings of dependency, affection and jealousy find their way.
The recent productions of Jamie Lloyd Company have in common a minimalist setting and sparing use of props, the sombre tones and shadows cutting through the atmosphere. Here, the stage is shaped by light design and mist, enhancing depth while both hiding and giving structure to the space. The auditorium reverberates with Scherzinger’s powerful voice, eliciting spontaneous applause from the audience several times during the acts. She confidently sustains the notes in several songs for extended moments. Delivering both ludicrous and grotesque lines, the singer commands the stage with an eerie and potent presence. Tom Francis delivers an engaged performance, his mellow vocals offering a beautiful contrast in the chorus sections.
Pulsating to the magnificent score by Andrew Lloyd Webber, sometimes veering into jazz and at other times diverting into upbeat melodies, the musical unfolds in black and white. The acting is accentuated by the use of cameras on gimbals, which appear and shift in strategic ways. In a narrative about films, it employs its own cinematic tools, incorporating them into a theatrical format that enhances the dramaturgy. The close-ups are projected onto a maxi screen, not as a substitute but as an impressive extension, the details of the big screen in an orchestrated dynamic with the emotions and energy on stage.
Once again, the Jamie Lloyd Company, along with the music and cast, have triumphed. Shrouded in dark humour, shadowy shapes and sonorous drifts, Sunset Boulevard is a stirring, tense comeback to the London West End.
Photo: Marc Brenner
Sunset Boulevard is at Savoy Theatre from 21st September until 6th January 2024. For further information or to book visit the theatre’s website here.