Fringe Box



Review: Sunset Boulevard – Yvonne Arnaud Theatre

Published on: 8 Oct, 2015
Updated on: 8 Oct, 2015

By Ferenc Hepp

Number 10086 Sunset Boulevard is the address of Norma Desmond, the faded and virtually forgotten silent-movie star, living in the past in an outdated old mansion in Los Angeles who believes that she can make a successful comeback to the big screen following an encounter with the young screenwriter, Joe Gillis.

Hilary Harwood and Lee Thomas in Sunset Boulevard.

Hilary Harwood and Lee Thomas in Sunset Boulevard.

This Andrew Lloyd Webber musical, based on Billy Wilder’s Academy Award-winning 1950 film of the same title, is brought to the stage by Alex Parker and his company, who regularly present community theatre projects in Guildford to great acclaim, and this production is no exception.

The set mainly consists of Norma’s mansion or action in front of the tabs and there is a representation of a film reel frame taking up most of the proscenium to remind us about the origins (and in fact the topic) of this production.

The room we see is full of picture frames which are blank and Hilary Harwood, who gives a powerful and emotional performance as Norma Desmond, often glances at these empty frames, which may suggest her past glory days which are now unfortunately without substance as these rather ornate frames have no content.

She in fact makes her position very clear right at the start of the show by uttering the famous words: “I am big… it’s the pictures that got small!”

Lee Thomas gives a consistently energetic portrayal as Joe Gillis, who ends up meeting Norma after arriving at her famous address following a car chase, and agrees to revise the story of Salome, which Norma has written for Cecil B Demille to direct and her to star in as a 16-year-old seductress. They get involved more than professionally and thanks to Norma’s possessiveness she even attempts suicide when she finds out that Joe has been out with friends, celebrating New Year.

When Joe hears about this, he returns immediately and reluctantly continues working on this doomed project. Norma ends up ‘gate-crashing’ the set of the latest film which Demille is directing; she is received warmly by old colleagues and sings As If We Never Said Goodbye, which was one of the highlights of the show for me.

The cast of Sunset Boulevard..

The cast of Sunset Boulevard.

Her facial expressions changed slowly from being frightened by the whole experience, to familiarity with her surroundings, and at this point everyone stopped what they were doing on the busy set to listen to her every word.

Later on we find out the real reason why she was invited by Paramount Pictures, who her butler really is and how far she goes when realising that Joe is no longer willing to stick around to put up with her egoistic ways, with a rather dramatic ending of the story when she proclaims: “No-one ever leaves a Star!”

There were some issues with the sound which unfortunately meant that some of the words were lost, especially in the chorus numbers, but that did not detract from the high quality of this production and some notable strong performances by the supporting cast, especially Clare Salter as Joe’s love interest Betty Schaefer, Paul Prebble, as Max von Mayerling (Norma’s Butler) and Steve Alais as Cecil B. Demille.

It runs at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until Saturday, October 10, and tickets are available via or 01483 440000.

star rating four

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