Evita Edinburgh Playhouse

There’s a healthy appetite for musical theatre in Edinburgh judging by the sizeable turnout for Evita on a dreich January Tuesday night, particularly as it has arrived here sandwiched between the sell-out runs of The Lion King and War Horse. I’ve never seen this highly successful musical before, nor have I seen the 1996 film version with Madonna in the starring role. However I couldn’t fail to be familiar with some of the songs which have found stand-alone fame outside the stage show - songs such as Don’t Cry for Me Argentina and Another Suitcase in Another Hall which were big hits for Julie Covington and Barbara Dickson and have been covered by countless others. It was written in 1976, the third collaboration between lyricist Tim Rice and composer Andrew Lloyd Webber and tells the story of Eva Peron and her journey from illegitimacy and poverty to become the glamorous and charismatic wife of Argentinian President Juan Peron.

The narrator of the story is Marti Pellow in the guise of notorious South American guerrilla leader Che Guevara. He is no longer the pretty faced boy from his Wet, Wet, Wet days but boy he is still looking good and drew plenty of cheers from adoring fans. His voice isn’t the same as it used to be either but, although he doesn’t have a background in conventional musical theatre, he can still hold a note and adds presence to the part. It’s just a pity that he is saddled at times with some really clunky dialogue and dodgy “singspeak” music. At times it sounded like some kind of old-fashioned agitprop theatre as the narrator attempts to weave in the economic and political history of Argentina, and it’s not helped that the musical accompaniment to these sections doesn’t complement the words and is played so loudly that it just sounds like so much noise.

Things get so much better in the quieter songs – Sarah McNicholas as The Mistress has a lovely clear voice and her performance of Another Suitcase is poignant and moving. Madalena Alberto as Eva also has a great voice and her rendition of Don’t Cry for Me Argentina is simply stunning. Mark Heenehan as Peron looked the part and had a fine baritone but the higher notes were a bit squeaky.

There are some powerful moments such as Eva’s balcony scene and her final radio broadcast to her beloved people but overall I felt it didn’t really engage my emotions. Is that due to the direction or is it the material itself? It might be interesting if Rice and Lloyd Webber were to revisit this work as it has some great songs and great subject matter, until then I think it is a bit of a curates egg – only good in parts.

Irene Brownlee