Wednesday, 26 August 2015

'Grand Hotel' - It's All About The Women

We went back to see 'Grand Hotel' at Southwark Playhouse again this evening - it's such a good show I needed a refresher. And it was excellent, better I think than the first time a few weeks ago, probably because the cast have lived in the characters for longer. The actors gel in the way a tight cast do, more relaxed because they've proved they can do it umpteen times and the complicated stage routines were more fluent and less studied. It all made for a thoroughly enjoyable evening with a great cast, great songs and great music.

But tonight, I thought, it was all about the women. I think of the Baron and Kringelein when I think of 'Grand Hotel' but no longer. The Baron is suave and sophistocated, confident of his place in the universe and playing it to the full. As the Doctor says, 'There is nothing more useless in the world than a nobleman with no money'. But he is brought down by two women, by his love for Grushinskaya and he needs money to go with her to Vienna and by his innate nobility that means he must intervene to save Flaemmschen from rape. And so he dies and the women carry on.

We see the unspoken love of Raffaela for her mistress and for 22 years she has saved every penny against the day that Grushinskaya has no-one to turn to and she can buy a villa on a hill and they can live quietly together. She is brave and strong and has protected her mistress all these years and, in the end, can't bring herself to tell her mistress about the Baron since it would break her heart. Her own stoicism is heartbreaking. And that's due to the performance of Valerie Cutko who brings her elegantly to life, a quiet love never spoken.

Raffaela's mistress is Elizaveta Grushinskaya, a renowned prima ballerina who is now on her 8th farewell tour because she needs the money. A once-great dancer in decline and hating that she is no longer the dancer she was but must continue. She finds the Baron in her room attempting to steal a necklace when he tries to talk his way out if by feigning love for her when suddenly he realises he is in love, a feeling he's never experienced before. The next day after the Baron has left, we get Grushinskaya's great song of love and joy, 'Bonjour Amour', and it was almost as if someone flipped a switch and joy poured around the theatre from Christine Grimandi as Grushinskaya. That was a marvellous performance and I'm pleased we don't see her reaction to the loss of the Baron. That would be desolate indeed.

And, of course, we have our young heroine, Flaemmschen, a typist for hire who wants to go to Hollywood. Victoria Serra has really grown into this role and makes Flaemmschen a lovable character, flawed of course, but I'd like her as a friend. Her hopes and dreams, her honesty, her coquettishness and fatalism are very attractive and it's Victoria that brings those qualities to life. Fearing she is pregnant and needing money for an abortion she agrees to go to America with a crooked businessman and, on their first night together realises she's not that kind of girl and the Baron saves her from being raped at the cost of his life. Her basic decency is clear from the final scene when Kringelein asks her to come to Paris with him and she tells him she's pregnant - she could've just said yes and spent all his money but that's not her at all. What a lovely creation. I liked Victoria in 'Titanic' and I like her even more as my Flaemmschen.

Flaemmschen never meets Raffaela or Grushinskaya but I assume she meets Madame Peepee at some point. Peepee is a member of staff at the hotel and has multiple functions - in other words is part of the supporting cast but I really noticed her tonight. Never one to cower before her 'betters' her facial expressions say it all.I couldn't find a production photo of Rhiannon Howys so here's the photo from the programme. It says she's had an extended career break but is now back in the harness so it'll be interesting to see what she does next. Solidarity with Madame Peepee!

I can't really blog about 'Grand Hotel' and not sing a song of praise to the Baron, one of my favourite theatrical creations even though this is about the women. Just as the other actors have grown into their characters so has Scott Garnham as the Baron and he was in full-on show-off mode tonight with a gloriously extended final note to 'Love Can't Happen' - that was sheer show off territory! But marvellous to hear as he kept the note going on and on and on...

Well done people and well done to Southwark Playhouse for bringing 'Grand Hotel' to life. Can I fit in another viewing...?

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