The Kid Stays in the Picture, at the Royal Court Theatre (review)

The Kid Stays in the Picture is an ambitious technical affair, an adaptation of former Hollywood film studio chief Robert Evans’ autobiography.  Still alive at 86, Evans produced some of the big film hits of the 70’s and 80’s for Paramount Pictures such as Love Story, Chinatown and The Godfather. He was notorious for his womanising charm and good looks (he started out as an actor), and his fall from grace when he was caught in a cocaine bust and embroiled in a murder case, from which he was acquitted.

the kid photo

The staging at the Royal Court Theatre starts out as a blank stage with some microphones on it, the cast primed as if for a radio drama. It then becomes a complex and slightly chaotic series of projections, live filming, screens, glass boxes, microphones, ringing phones and always the reflection of the autocue in one or many of the screens. I still can’t decide if the latter was intentional, but from my seat at a wide angle I could see at least three reflected screens with words running rapidly down them. It added to the cinematic effect but was also pretty distracting.

The use of on-stage filming by cast members, both by a large camera on a dolly and dinky little cameras which turned the top of a fridge into a photo album, was clever, but maybe over-laboured the point about making this theatre stage into more of a film set.  That aside, the complexity of the production, by video designer Simon Wainwright and lighting designer Paul Anderson, is always impressive and at certain points almost takes your breath away. I just wish I could have slowed it down in order to keep up with the frenetic pace.

Simon McBurney, the co-founder and artistic director of Complicite, is responsible for the adaptation and co-directs with James Yeatman. They have assembled some great performers, most of whom play multiple roles, although this too can be confusing due to the breakneck speed.  We see imitations of people such as Marlon Brando (by Clint Dyer), Ford Coppola and Roman Polanski.  Evans himself is played by both Heather Burns and Christian Camargo; Danny Huston (who, as son of John, knew many of the characters in the play in real life) provides the voice-over in silhouette and generally from behind one of the many screens.  I realise that there was some acting going on here but what I wanted most of all was to see and hear him properly, with less gravelly drawling and fewer glass boxes between us. I basically wanted fewer clever gimmicks and more human interaction.

Evans had seven wives, including Ali McGraw who we meet in this play.  Yet at no point do we really see him showing any emotion. McBurney seemed to want to let the cameras and the films do the talking here. Maybe that it how it was or is in Evans’ life. But it does not make for a very satisfying evening’s entertainment.

hattydaze rating: **/*****

I attended The Kid Stays in the Picture on a press ticket. It plays at the Royal Court Theatre until 8th April.

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