Based on Billy Wilder's 1950 Oscar-winning film of the same name, Sunset Boulevard depicts the faded glamour of the former Hollywood icon Norma Desmond, who’s now living in isolation with only memories for company. When struggling young screenwriter Joe Gillis appears at her crumbling mansion, she demands a second chance in the limelight.
Kathryn Evans and Ben Goddard reprise their Watermill roles as Desmond and Gillis, with West End veteran Dave Willetts joining the cast the actress’ servant, Max von Meyerling. The production is directed and choreographed by Strictly Come Dancing judge Craig Revel Horwood. Musical arrangements are by Sarah Travis, who also collaborated with John Doyle on previous Watermill actor-musician productions of Mack and Mabel, Gondoliers and Sweeney Todd, all of which had West End runs.
Overnight critics generally welcomed the revival of this “great and undervalued musical” with open arms. Most found Revel Horwood's “scaled-down, intimate” version actually surpassed its more grandiose West End predecessor, enabling the story to take centre stage (as opposed to the enormous staircase). Evans' “full throated” performance as Norma Desmond shone amid a “jaw-droppingly skilful” actor-musician cast, and Sarah Travis' “artful arrangements” were also heavily praised. There were some black marks, with more than one critic questioning the wisdom of retaining the filmed car chase sequence from the original production. But overall it appears that, in the words of the Evening Standard's Nicholas de Jongh, “small is better and sometimes beautiful”.
- by Theo Bosanquet