The Kid Stays In The Picture, based on the life of Robert Evans, adapted by Simon McBurney & James Yeatman, Royal Court Theatre, 11 March 2017

Where shall I begin?

Little did we know it when we booked this slot, but we inadvertently ended up with one of the hottest tickets in town.

Janie and I are Friends of the Royal Court – regulars – and tend to book up the season early. For this show, we thought we had booked one of the last of several previews.

As it turned out, because The Kid Stays In The Picture is technically complex and difficult, the producers ended up cancelling the first few previews and indeed delaying the press night/official opening by more than a week.

So our Saturday night preview ended up being the very first public performance of this utterly stunning and absorbing show.

Janie and I are great fans of Complicite and Simon McBurney – our most recent encounter, The Encounter, linked here – ever since our very first date nearly 25 years ago, also a Complicite piece, which I shall Ogblog come the anniversary in a few month’s time.

But enough about us.

Robert Evans is a fascinating person with a fascinating story. Actor, studio executive, film producer…with more sub-plots to his personal saga than The Lord of the Rings.

There is an autobiography named The Kid Stays In The Picture from 1994 and even a 2002 documentary film of the same – click here to find those – but neither of those media could possibly have the same visceral impact as this extraordinary stage experience.

There is a superb piece in the Guardian from late February 2017, about Evans’s life and this forthcoming Royal Court Production – click here – which provides a very handy one-stop-shop exposition on it all. It includes a lovely photograph of Robert Evans with Ali MacGraw (her second marriage of three, his third marriage of seven…so far). To see that picture you must click the link, as I cannot replicate a copyrighted picture. If you cannot be bothered to click, you’ll have to make do with an eerily similar picture which is unquestionably ours.

The sweet love story that is older than the sea

At the start of the evening, Simon McBurney and Vicky Featherstone each made a short speech, explaining how our evening had ended up being the very first public performance, explaining their mutual admiration/thanks and begging our forbearance if anything did go awry technically.

Nothing went awry. The performance was masterful. Janie and I, though both suitably cynical with age and vast experience of stage productions, were simply blown away by this piece.

At the end, Simon McBurney came on stage with his little boy, who had played the voice of Josh Evans (and indeed whose voice had been part of the story of The Encounter). The little boy seemed terribly nervous of being on stage and tried to scarper a couple of times while McBurney was, once again, thanking us and the Royal Court for putting up with all the disruption.

We saw Simon McBurney with his family in the bar before the show and also at the back of the stalls during the interval. Despite sharing Robert Evans’s multiple skills and visionary nature, I sense and hope that Simon McBurney is a more rounded individual who does not and will not let his grand projects prevent him from having some semblance of balance to his family life.

The title, The Kid Stays In The Picture, is attributed to Darryl F. Zanuck, who cast the very young Robert Evans as Pedro Romero in The Sun Also Rises movie, against the wishes of several of the stars and indeed Ernest Hemingway. Evans expected to be sacked, but when Zanuck exclaimed, “the kid stays in the picture” was spared. At the same time, Evans realised that he no longer wanted to be the kid, but wanted to be the guy with the power to make that exclamation.

That story was beautifully told, as were many other stories about the movies (Rosemary’s Baby, Love Story, The Godfather, Chinatown…) and stars (Mia Farrow, Ali MacGraw, Marlon Brando, Al Pacino, Jack Nicholson…).

All of the performances were superb and the depiction of well-known people done with great visual and vocal care. It almost feels wrong to single anyone out, but for laughs and bravura, Thomas Arnold’s depiction of Charles Bluhdorn (the Gulf & Western industrialist who bought Paramount and engaged Evans to run it) and Henry Kissinger (with whom Evans had intriguing links) was exceptional.

Janie and I sincerely hope that The Kid Stays In The Picture gets rave reviews. It deserves to become a huge success for McBurney, Complicite, The Royal Court and all involved. Surely the West End and/or Broadway beckon for this piece. Perhaps even…whisper it…Hollywood?

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