“There are three sides to every story: yours, mine, and the truth. And no-one is lying.” This quote from Robert Evans is the key to Complicite’s staging of the American film producer’s life. There’s never one angle on the material; live action and video spills across all three sides of the stage. You get a slightly different take, depending on where you look. A multiplicity of voices narrate.
Simon McBurney’s production can be scrappy, and often tips into sensory overload, but it’s also a clever way to stage a life every bit as interesting as the movies the man made. A clever way to stage the story of a man who believed that the story is king – but equally that there could never be one definitive version. By revealing its own processes of filmmaking, the production exposes the way narratives are constructed, the way myths are made. It’s deeply appropriate for a show about Evans, a man well aware of the importance of self-mythologising.
The Kid Stays in the Picture is based on his autobiography of the same name. Evans was head of Paramount in a 1970s movie-making golden age, and acted as a sort of maverick midwife for Rosemary’s Baby, Chinatown and The Godfather, among others. There’s a helluva lot of plot here. There’s the early acting career, after he was spotted by Norma Shearer and roped into playing her husband. There’s the super-fast ascent to studio head at Paramount and a run of unlikely movie hits. There’s the cocaine addiction, the drug bust, the involvement in a murder case, and the stint in a mental institution. And, gads, we only see one of his seven marriages!
This is all taken at breakneck, relentless speed; chronology isn’t always crystal clear, but you go with it, and it’s a blast. The Kid has swagger and style, much like Evans himself. Which should be no surprise as it’s very much his voice: the script appears to use a filleted version of Evans’ memoir, with all six actors speaking his words, in-between dropping into other characters. The chopped-up text is delivered extremely fast, the lines slotting in and around each other so that the atomised narration comes across as a unified thing, like a murmuration of starlings.
Physically, Christian Camargo primarily ‘plays’ the younger Evans, while a figure mostly seen in silhouette is the gravelly-voiced older man, looking back on his tumultuous life. The cast features Danny Huston – a cute choice, given he’s the son of John Huston, filmmaker and star of Chinatown. But all the cast are excellent, giving tightly controlled performances even when they blow up into larger-than-life screen sirens or cigar-munching movie moguls.
Screens beget screens. Back-drops are projected on a screen stage right, which an actor speaks in front of. Recorded on camera, the complete image is live relayed to a back screen. Process and product both remain visible. At other times, actors’ head shots are laid out under a camera, projected to illustrate the enormous cast of Hollywood characters Evans namechecks. Movie clips are fleetingly used. Syrupy film-score music swells over the action and sound effects are over-amped, exaggeratedly fake. The artifice of attempting to recreate a life is laid bare, by laying bare the artifice of the medium which he spent his life working within.
An early press night, after a delayed opening, is not without technical hitches, and seeing the script autocue reflected back on the screens was a slightly weird distraction. Combine the paciness with the fragmentation, and the show can feel as messy as it is well-constructed. Images flicker over all sorts of surfaces (the front of a fridge, the walls above a screen), but sometimes it feels all surface no depth. How well do we really get to know Evans? Excellently good fun as the show is, it’s more a romp than a deep excavation.
There’s one point where Evans looks back on his love affair with cocaine (staged with sexy silhouettes against bright white light, to a thrusting blast of Cream). He suggests that there’s “nothing more fake than artificial energy”. The Kid enjoyably recreates Evans’ genuine energy and ambition, but at times its cleverly-constructed hecticness also just buzzes too damn hard. It too feels jacked up on artificial energy, overly-pleased with its exhilarating methods for acknowledging the artifice of art and the many sides of the truth.
The Kid Stays In The Picture is on at the Royal Court until 8th April 2017. Click here for more details.