Tuesday, 22 October 2013

From Here To Eternity @ Shaftesbury Theatre

1941, Pearl Harbour.  There’s a war on – not that you’d know it beyond the military costumes on display.  Instead, this is a wartime musical (based on the novel and 1953 film) that barely acknowledges WWII.  That is, until paradise is lost.

From Here To Eternity is a polished and atmospheric production.  Whilst the use of projections and scenic backdrops provide a suitable sense of setting, it’s the choreography and music that stand out.  The opening number in particular is characterised by militaristic movement that is intricately choreographed, whilst Stuart Brayson’s breezy score is contemporary with a vintage feel, filled with sultry Hawaiian harmonies, guitars and ukulele.  The songs are frequently catchy and toe-tapping – exactly what you’d expect from this sort of show.  There are some sudden tonal shifts (the sexy prostitute scene in particular), but as a whole Hawaii is depicted as a peaceful, beautiful and indulgent island away from the horrors of war.

Yet with all this peace, the narrative is distinctly lacking in drama or danger.  The plot centres on two soldiers who both find love on the island: one a Private who arrives to the island and finds love with a local prostitute (Prewitt – Robert Lonsdale), the other a Sergeant who falls for the Captain’s wife (Warden – Darius Campbell).  The two leading men offer solid performances, with one blues number in particular bringing their differing voices together: the powerful tenor of Lonsdale and the rich bass tones of Campbell.  The book (Bill Oakes) and lyrics (Tim Rice), meanwhile, are well-written, human and believable. 

The problem is that, love aside, there is no central theme running throughout, besides the vague threat of war outside of the theatre walls.  One narrative strand focusing on homosexuality in the army is vastly underdeveloped and feels shoe-horned in purely for a touch of controversy.  What’s also shoe-horned in is the gratuitous ‘climax’ at the end of Act One – director Tamara Harvey’s idea of drama being a touch of nudity to get the old folk excited.

And then war hits the shores of Hawaii in the final ten minutes.  Finally some drama, but it’s too little too late.  The explosive choreography, use of slow-motion and fantastic lighting are incredibly cinematic, whilst the (inevitably) tragic ending poignantly emphasises the individual casualties of war.  It’s a touching end, but a shame it takes two hours of romantic slush to get there.


Watch: From Here To Eternity is booking until April 2014.