There is nothing obvious about Eve: All About Her. If you are hoping for a message spelled out in lightbulbs, this woozy, emotive, leftfield piece of performance art is not the Queer odyssey you are looking for. Near the start of the show Ramsay intones “In the beginning, I was nothing… sorry, there was nothing”. While this raises a laugh, it also clues you that identity is central to this work. Running through the entire opening credits of All About Eve from memory, the show begins to be infused with a fan’s obsessiveness. “Eve Harrington”, the ultimate fan-girl-turned-star as played by Anne Baxter in the iconic film, we are told “saved my life”.
Played out as an imagined-movie-within-the-show, this soi-disant Eve Harrington prequel is compared by Ramsay to a “mixtape of my people”. What follows is a monodrama awash with a tsunami of cultural illusions. It’s unlikely that you’ll find references to Maggie Smith’s Miss Jean Brodie, Faye Dunaway’s infamous voicemail message to her biographer, Shakespeare’s Sonnet 29, Nurse Ratched from One Flew Over The Cuckoos Nest and the opening sentence of Virginia Woolf’s novel Mrs Dalloway in any other single show.
Beyond these blink-and-you’ll-miss-them allusions, there are broader strokes at play beneath the surface. The earlier passage of the piece is coloured by Christopher Isherwood. From Ramsay’s description “Eve was also a camera” referring to I Am A Camera, the 1951 Broadway play adapted from Isherwood’s 1939 novel Goodbye to Berlin, the story temporarily alights upon a Cabaret style lodgings and Isherwood’s sense of youthful optimism.
Later in Eve: All About Her, Tennessee Williams becomes the prevailing undercurrent. Blanche DuBois’ line from A Streetcar Named Desire – “the searchlight which had been turned on the world was turned off again” – is repurposed to become our fleeing protagonist, broken-hearted at a failed love, switching off the night light on a flight. Later, at their lowest ebb, Eve thanks someone for giving her a lift with “I have always depended on the kindness of strangers”. Like Williams’ tragic heroines, the overarching feeling is one of all innocence snuffed out.
Delivered as a frenetic, erratic stream of consciousness, Eve: All About Her feels like we are turning the radio dial back and forth on a fractured psyche. You hear only momentary snippets of what is flooding Ramsay’s mind in that instant. As well as dialogue, quotes and spoken word, we sometimes tune into musical performance. Ramsay’s incredible vocals not only impress but are deployed to convey the emotional temperature of the protagonist. Sinatra’s 1951 torch song I’m A Fool To Want You is delivered with that raw Garland-esque commitment but equally, it implies that self-destructive diva impulse. A bathhouse rendition fragments Dream A Little Dream of Me with atonal electrobeats, creating the disorientation of fading aspirations. A spiralling Losing My Mind continues the downward trajectory until spoken lyrics lead into the final Back To Black. This musical downer is soon swept aside, superseded by the ultimate superstar roll call (with some new additions) in Madonna’s Vogue. In the search for identity, the only thing left in the Pandoric box for Eve was her ambition to be a Star.
What audiences will make of this intertextual mosaic will vary. Ramsay’s decidedly opaque and impressionistic approach to narrative will divide opinions. From some, the sheer volume of references scattered relentlessly throughout the show will equate to white noise by the end. For others, this fusion of the hazy, off-balance feel of Valley of The Dolls with the ruthless, ravenous ambition of A Chorus Line will be a satisfyingly rich Hollywood brew. Regardless, this Icarean parable about showbiz rise and fall is something you won’t forget in a hurry.