Grand Hotel continues at the Southwark Playhouse, London until 5 September.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
Set in Berlin in 1928, Grand Hotel presents a day in the life of the hotel, and the individual circumstances of six of the guests who pass through its doors, together with one or two of its staff.
Their lives and stories overlap and intermingle, with the narratives revealed in episodic rather than linear manner, and appropriately for the era of its setting, the narrator – Colonel-Doctor Otternschlag [last minute replacement, David Delve] – addresses us directly in Brechtian style.
The Weimar delivery moves through the musical styles too, sometimes sparse, intense and staccato, then contrasting with an almost Hollywood-esque musical comedy feel.
Movement and song are used to push the stories along with pace and excitement, following the long horizontal shape of the end-to-end staging.
Lee Proud’s choreography is excellent, not only reminiscent of the era, but at times adding to the musicality, most especially in ‘The Crooked Path’.
Thom Southerland’s direction is tight with the pace, never wavering, moving fluidly and seamlessly from one vignette to another.
The music (George Forrest and Robert Wright, with additional music and lyrics by Maury Yeston) is not always melodic, but to my mind the juxtaposition of light-heartedness, melodrama and darkness works well with the Weimar style, distracting us so we do not get too caught up in some of the personal stories. There are some great sardonic lines in the book, mainly deriding the wealthy guests in one way or another.
Again in Brechtian manner, the chorus, consisting mainly of the professional though largely resentful hotel staff, together with the observant and remote narrator, distances us and forces us to look directly at the societal contrasts.
There are some knock-out performances too, most notably Valerie Cutko as Raffaela, the devoted companion to Christine Grimandi’s ageing ballerina. Cutko’s elegant vulnerability, rich voice and commanding presence render her mesmerising, even on a densely populated stage.
Victoria Serra, as the beautiful young typist trapped by poverty and circumstance, dances beguilingly and displays a truth and susceptibility in her character. George Rae, playing Otto Kringelein, shifts effortlessly from the awkward, shy and dying book-keeper to a man occasionally awakened by those he meets in this new ‘good life’ in the hotel.
Grimandi has a strongly operatic presence, and she and Scott Garnham, as the financially embarrassed and thieving Baron Felix Von Gaigern, each have stupendous voices, though their performances would be enhanced by a greater nobility about their physicalities, and in particular a more balletic delicacy for the character of the fading and temperamental ballerina.
Jonathan Stewart as assistant concierge Erik, the nervous and poorly paid expectant father, and Jacob Chapman as the morally compromised Hermann Preysing, manager of a failing textile mill, also turn in fine performances.
Grand Hotel first premiered on Broadway in 1989, and in London in 1993. This particularly effective production is running at the Southwark Playhouse until 5 September.
Readers may also be interested in:
Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse – last minute cast change – News
Exclusive first look at Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse – News
Grand Hotel at Southwark Playhouse – rehearsal images – News