A Small Stage But A Grand Tour At The Finborough

By Sam Smith Last edited 40 months ago
A Small Stage But A Grand Tour At The Finborough ★★★★☆ 4

Oh, what a circus! Jerry Herman's The Grand Tour enjoys its European premiere at the Finborough Theatre © Annabel Vere

Londonist Rating: ★★★★☆

Jerry Herman is responsible for such masterpieces as Hello Dolly! and La Cage Aux Folles, while his Mack and Mabel has something of a reputation for being the greatest musical never to be a hit.

It is a little easier to understand why The Grand Tour, which is based on Franz Werfel’s play Jacobowsky And The Colonel, was never really a commercial success. There is insufficient feel good factor to draw an audience looking for light relief, yet the musical lacks the sheer bite of such works of genius as Sweeney Todd with which it would have been competing when it appeared on Broadway in 1979. Watching it on its European premiere, however, it becomes easy to appreciate it as a hidden gem that is quite profound in its own right.

Set during the German invasion of France in 1940 it concerns a Polish Jew who in his life has already fled from his homeland to Germany and then Austria and Paris. On the surface he appears to be amoral, and more interested in saving his own skin than in fighting to liberate countries. When, however, he helps a Polish Colonel and his lover to escape from occupied France so that they can continue the fight for freedom from Britain, we see that there is far more to him.

His constant choosing of life over death gives him immense resilience, and means that he will always find a way to overcome any obstacle. He even points out that he has spent all of his life being the hunted, and that the Colonel never had a problem with Hitler, or did anything to address the abhorrent treatment of Jews, until Poland was invaded.

Thom Southerland’s production in the compact Finborough Theatre is perfectly pitched. Phil Lindley’s set is a masterpiece that presents a continuous map of Western Europe on walls that run three sides of the stage. When the doors in these are opened their backs are painted so that the map remains complete, and it seems as if this is just one page of a giant Atlas because ‘Russian Empire’ is written on the extreme right suggesting that it appears on the next leaf. The stage is also excellently lit with lights overhead frequently emitting blue, pink and red hues.

The venue's size is turned to the production’s advantage. Intimate moments feel exactly that while the performers can fill the stage so easily in the large numbers that this gives them extra exuberance. Needless to say, the song ‘We’re Almost There’, which takes place on a cramped train, works a treat.

There is humour to be found in the piece, but Southerland also rings every last ounce of pathos out of the scenario by, for example, having a German solider shoot an unarmed civilian in front of the watchful eye of circus performers. The evening is also strongly acted with Alastair Brookshaw as the Jew Jacobowsky, Nic Kyle as Colonel Stjerbinsky, and Zoë Doano as his lover Marianne all thoroughly convincing in their roles.

Until 21 February at the Finborough Theatre, 118 Finborough Road, London SW10 9ED with start times of 15.00 and 19.30. For tickets (£16-22) call 0844 847 1652 or visit the Finborough Theatre website.

Londonist received a complimentary ticket and programme from Kevin Wilson Public Relations.

Last Updated 08 January 2015