Sunset Boulevard is a musical that tells of a faded silent movie star Norma Desmond and her meeting with down-on-his-luck writer, Joe Gillis. She seizes the opportunity in this meeting to ask Joe to assist her in reworking her own screen play but as time goes on it becomes apparent that Joe is more than just an employee to her and she attempts to make her comeback. Her faithful Butler, Max encourages and supports Norma’s fantasies but Joe however has other plans and meets a secretary at Paramount, Betty Schaefer, who he falls for. It is a musical essentially about possession, greed and selfishness and these themes come at the audience from all angles.
Normally Sunset Boulevard is produced on a huge scale including one in the making at the ENO, so I was intrigued to see how GEOIDS were going to pull it off. From the start I loved their concept and the stylish direction of the piece. Director Dom O’Hanlon and production designer, John Winters decided to focus the audience’s attention on transporting them from a theatre to watching the filming in a studio thus enhancing the shows reflective nature. This concept was executed stylishly with the simple placement of a camera and crew throughout the show as well as enhancing rather than trying to hide the markings on the set and floor. This concept allowed scene changes to be carried out effectively and rather break the mood, as can often happen, this actually reinforced the concept.
The set was also remarkable transforming the Bridewell into a variety of locations but most impressively Norma’s house with the iconic stairs and the gates of Paramount. The transitions looked effortless but you could tell that a great deal of time and planning had gone into the set and it really paid off.
Susan Booth played Norma Desmond and she was brilliant to watch. Being a silent movie star Norma Desmond is renowned for face and body language so it was vital for Susan to pitch this just right….and boy did she. Every facial expression, each glance and hand gesture was perfectly considered and well placed and her demeanour remarkably well suited to the part and cannot praise her enough for this. I also thought the numerous costumes were striking and added even more conviction to the character. When she talked about how wealthy she was you did not doubt this for one minute.
Joe Gillis was played by Michael Stacey and the scenes between him and Susan were nicely portrayed, his conflict and inner turmoil becoming apparent. In the big numbers such as the title song, Sunset Boulevard I would have liked a little more power behind his voice with his voice more suited to the tender numbers such as his duets with Betty, played by Nikki Davison, in particular Girl Meets Boy.
The ensemble were very strong and had complete conviction with what they were doing, at times their background acting pulled focus, in particular in As If We Never Said Goodbye, before those at the studio start to notice Norma. I however enjoyed the variety of characters I was presented with ‘on set.’ Eternal Youth is Worth a Little Suffering, where members of the ensemble got a chance to show off their comic timing, was thoroughly entertaining and had me chuckling away.
The twenty-piece orchestra was spot on with Musical Director, Sarah Burrell, at the helm although at times they overpowered some of the singing, especially some ensemble lines which may not have been mic'd.
Overall this was a classy and stylish production, successfully embracing the fact that it was a more intimate version of a big scale musical. In doing so I left feeling that GEOIDS had put their own innovative stamp on the show, whilst remaining true to the piece.