York Light in Evita, York Theatre Royal, until February 19, including Saturday matinees. Box office: 01904 623568 or at yorktheatreroyal.co.uk
IT’S no fun being out of action for two years. So there was relief and pleasure on all the faces of York Light – the musical theatre company formerly known as York Light Opera Company – when they returned to their rightful home base in a rousing Martyn Knight production of Evita.
The company is sensibly alternating two groups of principals over its 12 performances. On this second night (10/2/2022) it was Team Blue’s turn.
Eva Perón, familiarly known as Evita, and even Santa Evita to diehard fans, still excites
controversy today, even in Argentina. She was both an ambitious social climber who slept her way to the top but also a benefactress, a figurehead who spent lavishly on herself, a unifying icon for some and a uniquely self-seeking politico for others.
None of which makes it easy for the actress playing her. How likeable should she be?
Emma-Louise Dickinson’s response is bravely sassy, which comes close to being a warts-and-all exposé. It is the right approach. Nobody wants a prissy heroine. Tim Rice’s lyrics don’t allow her to be.
Much of her singing is stridently assertive, which doesn’t always make for the prettiest of sounds. For those we have to wait till Act 2 and in particular the scenes surrounding her illness and death.
Like all true operatic heroines, Evita takes a long time to die but Dickinson uses it to show us that she has a pleasing soprano. She is the main reason why Act 2 generates such pathos. Buenos Aires and You Must Love Me are poles apart but her versatility is more than equal to both.
Juan Perón may have been twice Eva’s age when he married her, but their personalities were well-matched. He strong-armed his way to power and was just as ruthless. His police state is echoed here with several shows of repressive policing. But Neil Wood plays him with sensitivity as well as strength and his passion for his young wife is never in doubt. His baritone serves him well over a wide range.
Jonny Holbek brings a folk-singing style to the role of Che, the narrator and social conscience of the unfolding events, which makes him an engaging man of the people, even if he sometimes strays from the notes that are actually in the score. He is mainly dressed in camouflage pants which verge on the paramilitary. He leads And The Money Kept Rolling In superbly.
Two other roles deserve special mention. Richard Weatherill’s big number as Magaldi, Eva’s
home-town boyfriend, comes early but he is more than ready. So too is Hannah Witcomb as Peron’s glamorous bit on the side, neatly crystallised in Another Suitcase In Another Hall.
A word, too, for the top brass in the musical chairs of The Art Of The Possible: good fun. There is also a succulent tango danced by Melanie Groom and Tom Menarry. Considering the importance of tango in Argentinian music, we could stand to see a lot more of them.
The chorus shows a marvellous mix of voices and ages, with plenty of young blood among several company veterans. All its numbers are danced, which means that a huge amount of choreography – also by Martyn Knight – has had to be memorised, an incredible feat considering they barely put a foot wrong.
Chorus delivery is occasionally on the shouty side but the opening Requiem is beautifully sustained and there is some lovely quiet singing in Act 2. The ladies look especially appealing in vintage hats and dresses.
Mike Thompson conducts an 11-piece orchestra with plenty of pizzazz. Its feel for Latin
American rhythms is consistently excellent. The balance is not always quite right. The bass is too boomy in Act 1, which means that several delicate phrases from keyboard or guitar do not get the prominence they deserve. In general the amplification could be turned down a notch to good effect.
The show is well served by its permanent set (from Lowestoft, but otherwise uncredited), which casts a presidential aura. It is absolutely heart-warming to have York Light back in action and in such amazing shape. The company’s enthusiasm is infectious. You daren’t miss it.
For the record, the Yellow Team principals are Alexa Chaplin as Eva, John Hall as Perón and Dale Vaughan as Che. All are seasoned performers.
Review by Martin Dreyer