Chinatown. Love Story. The Godfather (Parts I and II). Asides from being seminal hits from the 1970s, what do they have in common? The term ‘maverick’ is often overused, but 50 years ago, when actors, directors and producers had to toe the Studio line, there was one figure who stuck to his guns and in the process helped to created the tentpole movies of the 1970s – Robert Evans. His memoir The Kid Stays in The Picture was made into a documentary in 2002 and it is this source material that is the inspiration for Simon McBurney’s adaptation at the Royal Court Theatre in London.
The last time that a play with a direct connection with cinema played at the Royal Court was in 2003 with Terry Johnson’s Hitchcock Blonde. In its own way, The Kid Stays in The Picture also celebrate the Golden Age of Hollywood while simultaneously deconstructing it. Using The Godfather films as a template in structure – with the first half chronicling his road to independence and the second half his fall from grace – the narrative jumps back and forth in time with an omniscient perspective. The Godfather films may be forever associated with the director Francis Ford Coppola, but Evans’ DNA is all over the picture. And just as those particular films dealt with the obstacles the Corleone family faced from without and within, so does Evans in The Kid.
Eight actors play the key figures in Evans’ life, many of them well-known figures in Hollywood and the public area. As for Evans’ himself, he’s played by three people – his pre-Hollywood persona by Heather Burns, and as the mature producer by Christian Camargo and Danny Huston.
In terms of the set, the microphones and cameras on stage hark back to the media technology of yesteryear, as well as the meta- nature of the production. In some productions, the multimedia facets can be overpowering or obscure deficits in the storytelling. Here, it amplifies the notion that Evans himself is the story and in the films he helped create are a distillation of his life.
As an aficionado of the cinema, I was in my element watching The Kid, watching how the personal and historical interlinked. However, one doesn’t need an in-depth knowledge to gauge what is going on and ensemble cast are uniformly accomplished, the timbre of their voices alone transport the audience to the Watergate-era.
While some may fault with the fact with the way The Kid doesn’t dwell excessively on Evans’ ‘hell-raising’ years, the play does show that for all of his prestige and clout, he was prone in some instances to being too trusting and naive. It’s ironic that for a man who made his name to saying “no” to Hollywood when they didn’t see eye to eye, it was Evans’ lack of clarity with his nearest and dearest that would ultimately prove to be his undoing. Making his wife Ali MacGraw do a film with Steve McQueen (at a time she was craving time and love from Evans) made sense as a producer, but not as a husband. And just like in The Godfather, family and drugs don’t mix – to do so is to invite trouble… Ironically, if Evans really was as hard-nosed as his reputation, perhaps the Kid would still be in the picture.
CAST: Thomas Arnold, Heather Burns, Christian Camargo, Max Casella, Clint Dyer, Danny Huston, Ajay Naidu and Madeleine Potter.
© Michael Davis 2017
The Kid Stays In The Picture runs at the Royal Court until 8th April 2017