The Kid Stays in the Picture is a biographical play about the life of Robert Evans, a studio executive at Paramount who helped to bring to life such landmark films as Rosemary’s Baby, The Godfather and Chinatown. It’s based on Evans’ 1994 autobiobography of the same name, in a new adaptation by James Yeatman and Simon McBurney.
Evans’ life story is eventful, though as Hollywood lives go it’s predictable to the point of cliche. He’s a victim of adultery, a drug addict and a friend to the stars. He was also once indirectly involved in a murder case. Ultimately though, these events come too thick and fast to be dealt with in much detail, and so it ends up being the highs and lows within Evans’ career that provide the strongest points of interest: from pairing up Roman Polanksi with Rosemary’s Baby and persuading him to cast Mia Farrow in the lead role, to his initial dismissal of both Coppolla and Pachino for The Godfather.
Yet interesting though these details are, they’re ultimately pub trivia, and definately don’t warrant or help to sustain a two-hour play. And so we’re left with what amounts to a lot of hot nothing, only really made bearable by Anna Fleischle’s brilliant set and by the excellent ensemble work.
And the set is brilliant: something like a Wooster Group production, but jazzier – it basically consists of three moving screens, onto which live footage of the mise en scene is projected, together with film footage, silhouettes and general bricolage that both illustrate and bring atmosphere to the play’s fast-moving plot. The ensemble, especially in their aural work, are equally strong: it’s fast paced, not too-perfromative, and yet never anything less than dynamic. And these two elements hold together really well: the whole production seems to effortlessly glide across space and time, with a constant flow of arresting images and richly detailed sound and movement.
And yet for all this, neither Yeatman’s script nor Simon McBurney’s direction seem to even come close to offering anything resembling a critical insight into Evan’s life and its wider meaning. Here is a man who helped to finacialise the film industry, to normalise violence and to indulge viewers’ escapist tendencies on a scale that had previously not seemed possible. He was both a manufacturer and an embodiment of cultural capital in a manner beyond exemplary: a late twentieth century Monroe Stahr or Jay Gatsby. And yet in The Kid Stays in the Picture his life is, at best, sensationalised – at worst, blindly venerated. To the point of being embarassing to watch, as Evans’ dull epithets are held up as wisdom (“the story is the star!” – really? In that case, maybe think about re-casting…).
A clue to this enigma is indicated by the fact the production was actually produced by Evans, along with Barbara Brocolli (er, the money behind the Bond franchise).
If I’m honest – it’s a mystery to me what this play is doing at the Court. It is (and actually I felt the same way about McBurney’s The Encounter…) a meandering narrative this is more than a little bit politically dubious. At the same time, very well oiled and at times brilliantly formally innovative. And those two things are enough to make it worthwhile. But it should never have been allowed to happen…