REVIEW: Sunset Boulevard, Mayflower Theatre, Southampton, until January 20.

Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard must surely be one of the toughest roles in musical theatre.

Ria Jones
Ria Jones

How on earth could you get anyone to care terribly much about this appalling, deluded, blackmailing, faded old has-been?

And yet, somehow eventually Ria Jones manages most impressively, even succeeding in investing the monster in some kind of tragic grandeur.

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It’s a remarkable performance in a show which for so long is hard to warm to, a show which makes you wonder why anyone should have felt compelled to tell this particular story.

The answers come in a second half all the more powerful for the fact that the first burnt so slowly.

The production is beautifully staged, but the best musicals are surely those where we warm much more quickly to the characters we are watching. Maybe Sunset Boulevard’s strength is that it dares to be so very different.

Time and again, you feel you are catching snatches of Evita in the tunes and phrasing in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score. But you will walk away feeling it’s like nothing else you’ve ever seen.

Dougie Carter is excellent in the role of Joe Gillis, the ambitious young script-writer who gets sucked into Norma’s faded-goddess fantasy; but if you’re looking for charm (not in plentiful supply here) it is Molly Lynch as Betty Schaefer who offers it – a lovely performance from a complete stage natural.

But really, there’s no getting away from Norma as she plays out her madness. A great performance which rewards all the patience the show demands at the start.