Review: 'Sunset Boulevard' - UK Tour

Lewis Baird

  • OnStage United Kingdom Critic

When I go to the theatre I usually know a little bit about the production I am about to see. This could be a basic synopsis, the music featured or perhaps even knowing the production back to front. However, on this occasion I had no idea what I was about to see. All I knew is that Glenn Close played the lead character in the West end and on Broadway.

Norma Desmond is a name I was first introduced to tonight, and it’s a name I will never forget.

Sunset Boulevard is based in the glitz and glam of Hollywood in the late 1940s to early 1950s. It follows struggling writer Joe Gillis, who, after being hounded by debt collectors comes across an old mansion, owned by middle aged, out of work actress, Norma Desmond. She hands him a script she wrote, to also star in, asking him for his opinion, this leads on to a lengthy re-writing process. This leads to Gillis moving into Desmond’s property.  Will Norma's script succeed and will she land the leading role?

This story is utterly unique for theatre, it seems like nothing I have ever seen before on stage. A Hollywood film stage being placed in the Edinburgh playhouse is like a match made in heaven. The stage is simplistic yet complex. There are two huge flats which work as a film stage door and also a screen for projections. There is a grand, old fashioned, looking staircase which splits into four, also an organ and a boutique couch. There is also camera lighting and a camera on stage pretty much throughout the production. This is all designed by Colin Richmond, he is also the man who is also behind the exquisite  costume within this production. The glamorous and suave 1940s/50s clothing amplifies the vintage feel of the production, it makes it feel more authentic.

Ben Bracknell’s lighting design for this production is simply stunning. It’s flawless the way the lighting nails the tone for every scene. Along with perfect changes to match any shifts in the music. Andrew Lloyd Webber is a composer who I have always seen as overrated, I find his musicals are either a hit or a miss. Usually within my honest opinion I find his musicals rather irritating. But I bloody love the score in this, the music is simply glorious, it’s rich and has so much emotion packed in nearly every number.

Nikolai Foster directs this fantastic piece of musical theatre. If this musical was to have minimal movement, it would lack energy, if the actors were not positioned the way they were, the audience would miss some moments of importance. Every idea the director has put into this, were most of the important factors that make it the hit it is, it seems like such a complex musical to direct and position. The musical premiered back in 1993, he has definitely brought this 24 year old musical into the modern age, as he has made it appealing to an audience used to the endless stories available on streaming websites, in the cinema or on television.

However, a director needs a good cast for a good production to succeed. And definitely, he does. The ensemble in this production bring a burst of energy onto the stage as soon as they walk on. Their vocal plus physical work is coordinated and performed beautifully. They were literally faultless and the closeness of the cast could be seen on stage, they all worked splendidly together.

Molly Lynch played Betty Schaefer, an aspiring successful writer. This character has an innocent mind and is seen as an overall positive ingredient of this highly successful recipe. Molly brings energy, talent, a lovely voice and a clear character to the stage.

Adam Pearce plays Max, butler of Norma Desmond. Adam’s vocal talent is phenomenal, his voice is stunning, the range and depth in emotion he portrays through just singing is simply staggering, the characterisation he has went through is clear as we progress through the production.

Onto our leading man, Danny Mac as Joe Gillis. Danny Mac is renowned for his dancing talent after being on strictly come dancing. But his acting talent is his true strength, he portrayed Joe in a very naturalistic way, I really enjoyed the fact he did not over play the character, he brought definite charm and emotion in his portrayal. Danny’s singing is undeniably fantastic, he is confident and almost sings effortlessly. The characters journey is interesting and powerful, I believe Danny portrays the journey accurately and in a way which makes the character understandable for the audience.

Now we need one hell of a leading lady to portray Norma Desmond. And we most definitely got one! Ria Jones blew the roof off of the Edinburgh Playhouse on opening night of Sunset Boulevard, after her first number I genuinely thought there was going to be a standing ovation. Her character portrayal of the unemployed actress was simply flawless. Her voice is absolutely stunning, her characterisation of Norma had so much depth and colour. The journey she took us on was a rollercoaster of emotions and the presence she had on stage was unbelievable!

Sunset Boulevard does not need Glenn Close to succeed. This production ticks all the boxes, amazing cast, intelligent creative team and they work together seamlessly. Sunset Boulevard got a standing ovation on press night. It will get a standing ovation every night for the rest of the tour, without a doubt. Get out and see this stunning production now. 5/5 stars without a doubt.