Sunset Boulevard, Savoy Theatre, London, until January 6
I dozed off on the tube the other day and woke up at a station emblazoned with posters advertising a Suzi Quatro concert. It wasn’t a recent picture – the singer is now 73 – but taken in her Seventies heyday, and I wondered for a moment what decade I was in. It was always said that Brexit was not about taking back control, but taking us back in time, and it has succeeded admirably in that objective. Inflation, strikes, demonstrations, racism and political discontent, among so many other things, make it all feel like the ’70s all over again.
As one of the last stragglers of the Baby Boomer generation, I am conscious, too, that a lot of us are also peculiarly reluctant to let go of our early lives. Andrew Lloyd Webber would appear to have seen a commercial opportunity here and is raiding his back catalogue of old musicals. There’s already been a revival of his Aspects of Love, and, even though it’s just been announced it’s closing early, it’s now time for a reheat of Sunset Boulevard.
Well, let’s accentuate the positives first. The director Jamie Lloyd has made a determined stab at making it feel contemporary with huge, close up black and white film footage of its principals – inspired presumably by Daniel Fish’s Oklahoma! – and he’s got in Nicole Scherzinger as the fading Hollywood actress, someone who certainly knows how to belt out a big number.
As for the negatives, there are no sets, which means Scherzinger and her fellow actors feel very much like they are doing a Lloyd Webber greatest hits concert rather than a specific show. With no visual props to assist them, youngsters, who almost certainly won’t have seen the original black and white film, will have little or no inkling there is a story that’s also being told between the songs.
Some of the casting seems perverse, with Jon Tsouras, while a gifted performer, much too young to be cast as the director Cecil B De Mille. Tom Francis as Joe Gillis – the young scriptwriter Desmond falls in love with – tries his best and even strips down to his underpants, for no dramatically obvious reason. As Norma Desmond’s former husband and one-time director Max Von Mayerling, David Thaxton just doesn’t have the gravitas the part requires.
I don’t care for the trend towards having film footage dominating a stage show – if I wanted that, I’d go to a cinema – and the supposedly candid shots of Francis backstage, preparing to go on, just seemed absurdly self-indulgent. In all honesty, I hope very much there are to be no more Lloyd Webber revivals for the foreseeable future. The old boy is beginning to remind me of some ageing hacks I know whose idea of an entertaining night is to get out their old dog-eared newspaper cuttings and recall their great scoops of yesteryear.