Life's Not So Grand At Grand Hotel

Grand Hotel, Southwark Playhouse ★★☆☆☆

Laura Reynolds
By Laura Reynolds Last edited 42 months ago
Life's Not So Grand At Grand Hotel Grand Hotel, Southwark Playhouse 2
Photo: Aviv Ron

Vicki Baum’s 1929 novel Grand Hotel has been made into two films and a Broadway musical, so a stage production was always going to have a lot to live up to. Unfortunately, Southwark Playhouse's current production doesn't.

The opening scene —brief though it is — puts us in a bustling hotel lobby. People come, people go. We can practically envisage a revolving door on permanent rotation as hotel staff spend their lives assisting the increasingly demanding customers. A reference to the "haves and have-nots" brings the 1928 scene sharply into the reference frame of the 21st century audience.

We meet a dying doctor, a ballerina whose career is failing, a penniless baron. All intriguing characters, whose stories promise to develop over the course of the next two hours.

And therein lies the problem; they don't. Not in any meaningful sense that lets the audience care about them. Between the choreographed musical numbers, we see glimpses of their lives; the ballerina refusing to dance, the baron turning to crime. But each scene lasts for barely a few minutes before we're Lindy Hopping our way into the next character's life and problems. At other times, scenes overlap in a way that serves to confuse the audience.

The lack of character development is not for want of trying on the part of the cast  — the acting is brilliant, and for the most part, the singing is too. Valerie Cutko as the ballerina's loyal assistant Raffaela, and Victoria Serra as ambitious typist Flaemmchen stand out.

The choreography is accomplished but better suited to a bigger stage, rather than the narrow catwalk-style setting at this venue. Initially, it creates the hustle and bustle of the hotel lobby, but by the end, it's difficult to watch — the effect of the whole cast taking to the stage at once is like watching a mob of children simultaneously let loose in the playground, tripping over each other in their eagerness.

90 minutes in, it's samey to the point that we found ourselves zoning out. A glance at the song list on the programme on our way home left us unable to recall any of the individual songs — the vocals were fine, but the lyrics are forgettable — as are most of the characters.

Grand Hotel is on at Southwark Playhouse until 5 September. Tickets £12-£22. Note: the production contains smoking. Londonist saw this show on a complementary ticket.

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Last Updated 07 August 2015