The Kid Stays in the Picture at the Royal Court Theatre review *****


The Kid Stays in the Picture

Royal Court Theatre, 30th March 2017

So another of life’s minor annoyances caused by devoting too much time to work and not enough time to expanding the cultural horizons. I confess I have not read Robert Evans’s eponymous autobiography on which this play is based and therefore knew nothing about him. This clearly now looks like a massive oversight and will be put right tout suite. It is a fascinating story and it is pretty much immediately clear from the off why the genius Simon McBurney and Complicite have worked so hard to bring this story to the stage (with help from some big names in cinema).

Now all you theatre lovers will know full well how much of an asset Mr McBurney OBE is to the human race. For us lesser mortals you have likely seen him in a few films (Allied, Mission Impossible, The Theory of Everything, The Last King of Scotland which I recently watched), and a bit on the telly (Vicar of Dibley and Rev for example). Now I assume these were to pay the bills and fund the adventures with Complicite which he co-founded. Most recently he created Beware of Pity in conjunction with Schaubuhne Berlin at the Barbican (no review from me as it went in the blink of an eye but an astonishing five star tour de force) and The Encounter which I also saw at the Barbican last year and which was again a staggeringly clever piece of theatre.

Now this piece uses all the tricks for which he is famous. Video on stage, recorded video, close ups of other media, music and sound collages, lighting effects including brilliant use of silhouetting, actors telling the story through microphones rather than drama per se, multiple parts. It is an astonishing technical feat to have pieced all this together – even a dummy like me can see that. Given however that this is in essence therefore just telling the first person story, in a very cinematic way, of what is on the page in the autobiography, I can see why some of the professional reviewers got a bit sniffy about whether this is proper theatre. Me I couldn’t give two hoots about the genre bending when the story is this captivating and when it is delivered at this pace. At the risk of sounding like a patronising old git (actually no risk at all for when the cap fits) I would highly recommend this to those who are not natural theatre goers but who do love their cinema.

This is not simply because of the content (Robert Evans was largely responsible for the rise of Paramount Studios in the 1960s and !970s and the driving force behind the likes of Rosemary’s Baby, Love Story, The Godfather and Chinatown) but also the style. There is a debt of gratitude to the likes of Citizen Kane and films from the early days of cinema, as well as to noir with the “voiceovers”, but Complicite also manage to capture this era of great “New Wave” cinema making when big characters made big films with big issues at their heart (not the silly CGI fantasies too often spat out by modern Hollywood). There is no real development of the characters so I think I now know what Robert Evans and other caught up in his story got up to (a rise and fall morality tale), though not really why, but frankly it didn’t matter to me. I just got mesmerised by the story.

So there you have it. Please go and take a look. It isn’t the typical Royal Court fare where the writer is everything (and that is why it is a precious institution) but it is still a rollickingly good evening and they even let you out for a comfort break halfway through.

P.S. This did bring to my mind two other recommendations. Firstly if you have never read Suspects by the film journalist David Thomson, please do. He takes renowned characters from cinema’s past and weaves imagined back-stories for them. Marvellous holiday reading. And secondly if you are a youngster and have never sat down and watched the Godfather trilogy please put this right. I accept that by Part 3 Al Pacino is having to make herculean efforts to prop up a creaky plot but Parts 1 and 2 are about as good as film gets. Ask your Dad if you don’t believe me. If he doesn’t agree get a new Dad.

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