Gillian Anderson? Lily James? Nah, The Real Star Of All About Eve Is The Script

Gillian Anderson and Lily James star. Image: Jan Versweyveld

“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night!” All About Eve is a smorgasbord of such tasty morsels — dished up like dialogue canapés, and washed down with a torrent of champagne-stoked contretemps.

The short story-turned-radio-play-turned-Oscar sweeping movie, is now a West End show — with Gillian Anderson as ageing star Margot Channing, and Lily James slipping into the cold skin of Eve Harrington, Channing’s butter-wouldn’t-melt fan with a plan.

In Ivo van Hove’s staging, the lead’s self-pitying monologues do trundle on (and we don’t recall Bette Davis quite so emphatically spewing into the toilet). Still, Anderson is magnetic as the paranoid star, both fragile and — let’s face it — a bit of a narcissistic dick. She relishes her lines too, delivering each with yesteryear Hollywood gusto.

As Channing blubs into her martini, a screen above the stage shows Eve scheming in an off-stage kitchen. This split-screen staging cleverly lets plot play alongside subplot, and adds a movie-like dimension. It’s probably used a bit too zealously (we already mentioned the vom scene). A camera sunk into the dressing mirror is used to skin-crawling effect, and is surely a critique on the all-seeing eye of 21st century fame.

Image: Jan Versweyveld

James’ obsequious-to-the-point-of-sickly understudy is a slow-burn. You know pretty sharpish something’s awry, but it takes two hours for every pretty layer to be stripped off. When she eventually flares up in her true colours — spatting with rakish critic Addison DeWitt (Stanley Townsend) — you can’t take your eyes off it.

Though the two Hollywood leads will rightly snatch in audiences, the real star here is the writing. All About Eve is a modern fable about the trappings of showbiz, which glints with diamond-sharp, noir-ish dialogue. “The only thing I ordered by mistake is the guests,” snaps Channing at a gin party. It’s good to see women get all the zingers, maybe surprising, given the script’s been around 70 years.

As for that ending: it’s one of the most delicious twists in stage and screen history. Careful what you wish for, kids.

All About Eve, Noel Coward Theatre, until 11 May 2019.