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Review of Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse

Victoria Serra (Flaemmchen) with cast
Victoria Serra (Flaemmchen) with cast
Photo Aviv Ron

The roaring twenties were a wonderful time. The war was over, hemlines and stocks were rising, everywhere people were wallowing in the sheer hedonism and optimism of life. In Europe, the city of Berlin has become the cosmopolitan heart of the continent. Whatever your indulgence it was available in the grand old city, and would be supplied at the click of an imperious finger. The Southwark Playhouse has brought the decade to life once more with its current revival of ‘Grand Hotel”.

Over a weekend in in 1928, The Grand Hotel is stuffed to the rafters with its usual mix of guests. At the top of the pecking order, and representing the nobility of old Germany, is the young, devastatingly attractive Baron Felix Von Gaigern (Scott Garnham). Slightly down the social scale is Colonel-Doctor Otternschlag (David Delve), badly injured in the war, he cynically observes the coming and going of the guests and staff. Representing the sordid world of commerce is the General Director of a textile mill, Hermann Preysing (Jacob Chapman) who is eagerly anticipating good news from America. Arriving at the hotel for the weekend is the prima ballerina Elizaveta Grushinskaya (Christine Grimandi) accompanied by her faithful dresser/secretary/confident, Raffaela (Valerie Cutko). The final guests – looking very out of place – bookkeeper Otto Kringelein (George Rae) and typist Frieda Flamm (Victoria Serra).

Christine Grimandi Scott Garnham
Christine Grimandi Scott Garnham Photo Aviv Ron

All of the guests are welcomed by the Grand’s attentive staff under the watchful eye of General Manager Rohna (James Gant) and Concierge – and soon to be a father – Erik (Jonathan Stewart). Everyone is assembled but, nobody is exactly as they seem on the outside and over the course of the weekend, The Grand Hotel will see more than its share of love, betrayal, lies, blackmail, threats, violence, ambition, birth and even death as the guests and staff interact within its protective walls. Never was the old phrase ‘what happens at The Grand, stays at The Grand’ more apt.

Based on the 1929 novel ‘Menschen im Hotel ‘ by Vicki Baum, “The Grand Hotel” is a soaring tale of that wonderful period between the wars and before the Wall Street Crash, when life was there to be lived and hang the consequences. Turning the story into a musical was a real collaboration with the book by Luther Davis and music and lyrics by Robert Wright and George Forrest, with additional lyrics and music by Maury Yeston and is a wonderful example of a great musical. From the opening number ‘The Grand Parade’ I was hooked on this story of the lives of the staff and guests of Berlin’s No 1 hotel. In fact, if I’m honest, I was hooked as soon as I walked in the auditorium and saw the stunning crystal chandelier hanging over the stage area. Director Thom Southerland has staged the show with a long thin stage area – like a hotel lobby – and the audience sat either side. This works really well with the constant bustle of people moving through the hotel and other areas adding to the bustling atmosphere of the place. The narrowness of the space must have caused some headaches for Choreographer Lee Proud – with up to 17 actors on stage at any one time – but the dancing works really well to convey the period and enhance the songs. The band, under Musical Director Michael Bradley or hidden over the stage and deliver a beautiful sound – particularly the four violins that accompanies the voices of the actors below.

With regards to the cast, I particularly loved Scott Garnham’s Baron. Scott has a fine voice – really evident in his rendition of ‘Love Can’t Happen’ – and manages to tread the fine line between portraying the Baron as an arrogant Imperial aristocrat and a cheeky chappy living on his wits wonderfully. Other characters, and actors, that really caught my attention were Valerie Cutko whose portrayal of Raffaela with her unspoken love were heartbreaking to observe, and Otto Kringelein, played with a wonderful wide eyed innocence by George Rae whose optimism and enjoyment at living life is so uplifting throughout. In fact, the entire cast were brilliant and delivered highly polished performances during the whole production.

Ultimately, “Grand Hotel” is a wonderful spectacle that is enjoyable from start to finish. My one criticism is that at times, the show feels too big for its location. To me, “The Grand Hotel” is crying out for a West End Stage where the vastness of the score and story can really be fully realised. However, forgetting that, this production is great – a wonderfully authentic staging, superb costumes and a fantastic cast – and I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to The ‘Grand’ where, as Doctor Otternschlag observes: ‘Always the same – people come, people go – one life ends while another begins – one heart breaks while another beats faster – one man goes to jail while another goes to Paris – always the same.’
4 stars

Review by Terry Eastham

Come, spend a night or two in the world’s most opulent, extravagant hotel. Perhaps you will find your fortune there, perhaps you will find true love, perhaps all of your dreams will come true… perhaps…
The Grand Hotel is bustling with eccentric and sometimes dubious guests: amongst them a fading prima ballerina being forced to dance again; a fatally ill Jewish bookkeeper who wants to spend his final days living in luxury; a young, handsome, but destitute Baron; a cynical doctor suffering from World War I wounds; an honest businessman going bad as he faces financial ruin and a typist dreaming of Hollywood stardom. Over the course of a weekend, their extraordinary stories interweave with each other and the hotel’s hardworking staff.
Based on Vicki Baum’s Grand Hotel, by arrangement with Turner Broadcasting Co., owner of the motion picture Grand Hotel.

Creative Team
Director – Thom Southerland, Musical Supervisor – Simon Lee, Musical Director – Michael Bradley, Choreographer – Lee Proud, Set & Costume Designer – Lee Newby, Lighting Designer – Derek Anderson, Sound Designer – Andrew Johnson, Casting Director – Danielle Tarento.

Cast: Jacob Chapman, Valerie Cutko, David Delve, James Gant, Scott Garnham, Christine Grimandi, Charles Hagerty, Rhiannon Howys, Paul Iveson, Jammy Kasongo, Ceili O’Connor, George Rae, Victoria Serra, Jonathan Stewart, Durone Stokes, Samuel J Weir, Leah West.

Danielle Tarento presents
Grand Hotel
Book by Luther Davis
Music and Lyrics by George Forrest and Robert Wright
Additional Music and Lyrics by Maury Yeston

31 JULY – 5 SEPTEMBER 2015
Evenings: 7.30pm
Matinee 3.00pm
Running Time 105 minutes
http://southwarkplayhouse.co.uk/

Thursday 6th August 2015

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1 thought on “Review of Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse”

  1. A truly fine presentation of a marvellously entertaining musical. And yes, Ms Cutko was a revelation in Mr Southerland’s peerless production. Catch this wonderfully-engaging rarity while you can at the ever-enterprising Southwark Playhouse.

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