Tuesday 11 August 2015

Grand Hotel @ The Southwark Playhouse

Grand Hotel @ The Southwark Playhouse

1928. Germany. The Grand Hotel. The most expensive hotel in Europe. And it runs like clockwork.

Perhaps you’d expect that from a German hotel, but this production has the glossy, musical sheen that only Hollywood can provide. All-singing, all-dancing porters take your bags, the service is friendly, and you may even meet a rich celebrity or two.

Beneath the surface, though, the hotel bubbles with corruption and horror. The narrative follows a number of different characters as their paths intertwine across the lobby – there’s an aging ballerina past her prime; a dying Jewish man who frequently suffers the prejudice of others; a supposedly wealthy Baron forced to steal from his fellow guests. There are shady business deals, money issues, and even murder and rape. It doesn’t quite add up to the sum of its parts to create a satisfying narrative backbone – instead these are disparate, overlapping stories. Yet the sinister tone is a welcome one. This is a musical that’s not afraid to uncover the darker side of life, to unveil the secrets of its characters, to prove that musicals aren’t all joyful dance numbers and slushy romance. Here, love comes with a price.

That’s not to say there aren’t some exuberant dance numbers in this production. Reflecting the plot, Lee Proud’s choreography quickly turns from frivolous entertainment and buoyant Charlestons, to nightmarish machine-like movement. And whilst it may seem too much for the cramped traverse staging, the stage space is intelligently utilised under the direction of Thom Southerland as scenes segue seamlessly from one to the next, creating smooth pacing even where Luther Davis’ book is fractured. Robert Wright and George Forrest’s music and lyrics only add to the Hollywood polish, with a jazz and classical score full of high drama and sweeping, almost operatic, melodies, even if they’re not the most memorable of tunes.

Every cog in this machine works incredibly hard – from the aforementioned creatives through to the cast. A few performances stand out, namely Victoria Serra as the naïve Flaemmchen hopelessly following a Hollywood dream; Christine Grimandi as the diva ballerina Elizaveta Grushinskaya; Scott Garnham as the lovable rogue Baron Felix Von Gaigern with a stunning high tenor; and George Rae as the innocent and fragile Otto Krigelein. Yet every member of the cast puts their all into the rich tapestry of harmonies and sharp choreography. As the saying goes, ‘there are no small parts, only small actors’, and it especially applies here.

It’s not quite a perfect machine – the narrative feels a little too disparate, with some threads lacking development – but this is a slick production from a talented cast of both experienced and young performers. The Grand is a hotel everyone should be clambering to check into.


Watch: Grand Hotel runs at the Southwark Playhouse until 5th September.

Grand Hotel @ The Southwark Playhouse

Grand Hotel @ The Southwark Playhouse
Photos: Aviv Ron