Photo credit: Footlights
On 28 January, Exeter University’s own Footlights will once again take to the Northcott Theatre stage in what is set to be the theatrical event of the year, as they tackle Andrew Lloyd Webber’s and Tim Rice’s masterwork ‘Evita’. On Friday night, I was lucky enough to be in the audience for a sneak preview.
What I witnessed was a fast-paced rollercoaster of a show infused with all the power, passion and grace of a South-American street carnival.
From the very beginning I was catapulted into a thriving spectacle of Latin American rhythms, daring dancing, and wistful ballads that kept me enthralled throughout Eva Duarte’s rise from the slums of Buenos Aires to the arm of Argentina’s President Juan Perón. As the musical progressed on, alternating between a series of large-scale explosive numbers such as “Peron’s Latest Flame” and tear-jerkingly tender renditions of the classic “Don’t cry for me, Argentina” and “You must love me”, I could not help but admire the professional aptitude of both the cast and crew.
Given that this was the first rehearsal with a complete band and full costume changes, there were always going to be minor glitches. However, whilst the backstage areas were engaged in a seething turmoil of activity, the stage itself remained calm and composed. Every dance was performed with a mesmerising intensity, as the dance troupes functioned with remarkable unity and cohesion, combining acrobatic athleticism with clinical precision to form a dazzling spectacle that left me yearning for more.
Daniela Parkes’ performance in the title role was equally sublime, as she tackled the challenging role with remarkable sincerity, transforming from an eyelid-fluttering seductress to a formidable political figure burdened with the hopes of a nation. The chemistry between Parkes’ Evita and Will Beynon’s Peron was also fantastically enacted, as the pair lurched from sensually crafted scenes of intimacy to highly charged tense confrontations that illustrated the darker subtext of ruthless dictatorship that runs through the play in a menacing undercurrent.
Alexander Deakin’s portrayal of Magaldi, the swarve singer who liberates Eva from the slums was hugely impressive, with his soaring vocals and sheer stage presence commanding the audience’s attention, as was Helly Dudley’s tender rendition of “Another Suitcase in Another Hall” in her role as Peron’s Mistress.
The lynchpin of the production though was Eoin McAndrew’s performance as Che, who acted as a focal point for the audience, guiding them through the action with powerful addresses and decibel busting, hard-rock style vocals that conveyed the infamous figure’s revolutionary’s fervour.
With such a large cast (36 Strong!) there is always the potential for scenes to appear chaotic or overcrowded, but this is successfully sidestepped by Director Aaron McCrossan’s ingenious use of the performance space. Split staging is used to its full potential as the scenes shift effortlessly from bustling Jazz clubs to isolated bedrooms. McCrossan’s use of props too, is well managed, particularly during the infamous “Money kept rolling in” scene where individual sections of a huge Argentine dollar bill come together to form a striking image.
For me, this image encapsulates the very essence of the production as every aspect is instrumental in forming, and sustaining, the spectacle. If one section is missing, the integrity of the whole production is threatened. Luckily, every aspect has been catered for as McCrossan’s direction combines effortlessly with Caitlin McNerney’s breath-taking choreography and the musical magnificence of Nic Craig’s formidable band.
If there is one thing that can well and truly dispel those lingering January blues, it is this show. Evita not only seduces the nation, but the audience themselves and I cannot wait to see what happens when this rough diamond is given its final polish and transferred to its rightful home in the Northcott.
Tickets start from £9.50, subject to a £2 booking fee, and can be purchased here.