Before last night my knowledge of Evita could be described, at best, as "sketchy". I think I once saw the last 10 minutes of the Madonna film, possibly through a Christmas Day fug of gin and Quality Street; I know approximately half the words to Don't Cry For Me Argentina; I am aware that The Dark Lord was fond of making the quivering Dorothys/Marias/Nancys/whatever in the bottom two every week sing something about a suitcase in a hall. But that's pretty much it.
I never like to be left out, however, and accordingly found myself at The Lowry in the company of two girls who appear to have been listening to the Evita CD on repeat since the age of six. The plot (look away now if you don't wish to know) seems to be roughly as follows: plucky but poor Eva Duarte sets off for Buenos Aires in the company of mustachioed club singer; plucky but ambitious Eva Duarte dumps mustachioed club singer for string of increasingly important lovers; plucky but manipulative Eva Duarte bags Colonel Juan Peron; Peron becomes President; plucky but self-interested First Lady of Argentina wears a series of impeccable outfits and launches a foundation that prompts a small child with gappy teeth to sing about how she is a saint; plucky but poorly Eva Peron clutches stomach a lot, then dies, to much mourning and some really rather nice floral displays. All, of course, accompanied by lots of singing and twirling.
Now, you're either a fan of the musical genre, or you're not. Evita is not my favourite musical by a long way - it has rather too much of that not-exactly-singing-not-exactly-talking stuff in it for my liking - but the current production at The Lowry is spectacularly impressive (particularly when you're right in the front row, enjoying a view up the cast's nostrils - when will I ever learn to book the right tickets) with seamless set changes and a uniformly excellent cast. Our hearts sank a little when we saw that the lead actress, Abigail Jaye, was best known for Hollyoaks (well, it's always that or The Bill), but she was simply superb, handling The Dark Lord's ludicrously difficult starts-very-high-then-goes-very-low repertoire with aplomb.
But, despite my best efforts to sum up the performance, recreating the highs and lows and communicating every little nuance, I find that I am unable to better the plot summary so decisively announced at the interval by a perceptive fellow theatre-goer in the row behind us: "so, he knew that she was a dirty tart all along..." Next time, I really don't think I'll bother trying to compete.
- Evita finishes at The Lowry tomorrow; visit the website at www.thelowry.com for more details.