Exeposé Arts online (6 February 2015)
Exeter University Footlights set out to seduce us all with their production of Evita – and while this love affair started out as a rocky one, we got our thrills in the end.
Evita celebrates the life of Eva Perón, the Argentinian actress who rose to become one of the country’s most famous political leaders. Based on Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Tony Award-winning musical, Evita spans the tumultuous arc of Eva’s life – a swelling crescendo of power, influence and public admiration followed by haunting decline.
That being said, the first half lacked momentum. Funerals are a solemn affair – but even so, we could have been projected into Eva’s story with a bit more oomph. Things remained a bit disjointed, movements were rough around the edges, the harmonies didn’t fall perfectly in sync – and things did clash at times. You could tell it was opening night.
Evita was at its best when it was at its bounciest, loudest, and most raucous – and the spell was broken slightly when feet didn’t fall quite in time. Dampening the energy, the slips and falters stopped us reaching fever-pitch when we were craving it most.
Things heated up in the second half, though – and when the music was throbbing and the stage was filled with foot-stomping energy, the performance was thrilling.
Daniela Parkes’ Eva was deliciously sassy. Her voice was raw, with a shrillness that sometimes made her words hard to catch, but was always superbly powerful. The Northcott is a big stage to fill, but from exasperated arm gestures to diva-ish outbursts, this woman did it.
Meanwhile, Eoin McAndrews’ Che was suave, dishevelled and cool. He kept the show’s energy ticking over brilliantly, conducting us through the repertoire of Eva’s life – and making revolutionary spirit sexy.
The choreography was innovative and breath-taking. The shapes the dancers made were dazzling, and it all seemed to come together in the second half – just in time for things to come tumbling devastatingly down again.
We’d known this was coming – yet Parkes’ unflinching sass and vigour had still managed to convince us Eva was invincible. And seeing our heroine suddenly weak was gut-wrenching. Will Beynon rightfully came to the fore as Perón during the show’s most harrowing moments: cradling his wife, the heartbreak in his croaked “where do we go from here” was undeniable – and painful.
So no, it wasn’t love at first sight – but by the show’s finale it wasn’t just Eva who had won us over, but the whole of Argentina. Together, the cast flirted with our sympathy, our humour, and our revolutionary spirit, and despite a few first-date faux pas, they captured our hearts – and our tear ducts – in the end.
Photo: Exeter University Footlights