Friday, 7 August 2015

'Grand Hotel' at Southwark Playhouse

There's a new production of the mighty 'Grand Hotel' at Southwark Playhouse so I just had to see it. I've said before in the Plastic Bag that 'Grand Hotel' is one of my favourite musicals so I judge productions on a different, higher, level so any production must raise it's game. And. you know what? It did!

My first 'Grand Hotel' was in 2004 at the Donmar Warehouse and I saw that production twice. That production featured Daniel Evans as Mr Kringelein, Mary Elizabeth Mastranatonio as the ballerina Grushinskaya and Julian Ovenden as the Baron. My second was 10 years later in 2014, the graduation show by the students from the Guildhall at the Silk Street theatre and they put on a smashing show and the stand-out performance for me was Rebecca Collingwood as Flaemmchen, the typist. So this was my third production.

So, what's it about? Do I really have to tell you? It's set in the Grand Hotel in Berlin in the early 1930s with all sorts of people visiting and staying, and all sorts of people working there. We see the life of the hotel over a few days and snatches of the lives of the people there, from Erik who works at the reception desk to Grushinskaya, famous ballerina on her eighth farewell tour, the young Baron who lives there but can't pay the rent, Flaemmchen the jobbing typist for hire who wants to go to Hollywood, Otto Kringelein who has just left hospital and wants to experience life before he dies and Herr Preysing the businessman. All life is here and the characters wander through, interacting now and then as well as pursuing their own stories. Another character is the magnificent chandeleir that floats over the middle of the stage, glimmering and shimmering for all it's worth.

Of course, there's more to it than that and we have the Baron and Grushunskaya finding their love only to lose it, Flaemmchen being 'bought' by Preysing who wants to take her to America and the Baron saving her from rape and Kringelein finding life. We see the characters grow and change, we learn of their pasts in snatches of song and we can only wonder at their futures. But not the Baron, our hero, who dies in the struggle to save Flaemmchen but his love, the ballerina, never knows. O how cruel fate can be, enough to bring a tear to the eye.

All of the characters have a song (or more) to their credit, a chance to shine and to immortalise their stories. The Baron - as our hero - is featured throughout but his main songs are 'Love Can't Happen' when he realises he's in love with Grushinskaya and 'Roses At The Station' when his spirit visits the railway station at which he'd promised to meet her and he can't fail at that after waiting so long for his love. Grushinskaya celebrates her new-found love with 'Bonjour Amour' the morning after her night with the Baron, finally she has found love. What can be more important and life-affirming?

Flaemmchen's big song is 'I Want To Go To Hollywood' in which we hear about her ambitions as well as the squalid life on Friedrich Strasse she wants to escape. But she fears she's pregnant so what's a girl to do? It's a great song and was very well delivered but I wasn't keen on adding the dancers to it - it's a solo song of desolation and hope and adding dancers to make it more Hollywood didn't really work for me. Rafaella, Grushinskaya's maid, has a touching song at the end when she decides that she can't tell her mistress about the Baron's death. Even Erik the receptionist has a song when he sings to his new born son over the phone telling him that he'll have everything and this nicely mirrors the song of the Baron - the Baron dies as young Erik is born. Life continues.

As does the future and the guests are fleeced by the hotel and then it becomes more vicious as suitcases are piled beneath the chandelier and the guests lose their jewelry, their clothes, their shoes and the spectre of the Holocasut looms and the chandeleir comes down.

The cast were all really good. I particularly liked Valerie Cutko as Raffaela, the maid (who I saw in 'Carousel' a couple of years ago), Victoria Serra as Flaemmchen (who I saw in 'Titanic'), Christine Gimandi as Grushinskaya (and this is her UK debut, a great show to debut in), Jonathan Stewart as Erik (who has a lovely voice) and Scott Garnham as the Baron. Sorry Scott, but Julian Ovenden remains my Baron.

I loved the penultimate scene with the Baron being showered in rose petals - a lovely touch that picks up on his song, 'Roses at the Station' (roses for passion). It's quite spectacular with the cast on chairs throwing handfuls of petals and then they fall like snow from the ceiling.

Well done Southwark on a great production. It sometimes felt a bit over the top with so much action taking place on such a narrow stage, all the dance routines and set pieces but overall it worked. Maybe your ushers need to remind the audience not to strecth their legs out onto the stage? The Doctor nearly stumbled by someone stretching out his legs at the wrong time. Not good. And how about that new-fangled invention of numbered seats? Go on, I dare you...

It's only on for another four weeks so enjoy it while you can!

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