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Adagio Teas
   Features  >  London Theatre Reviews

at the Shaftesbury


  Siubhan Harrison/ Ph: Johan Persson

It’s axiomatic if you’re going to musicalize an iconic novel such as From Here to Eternity that the score, the adaptation and the staging should add a fourth dimension, especially with material as familiar as this. If it doesn’t, why bother?

Librettist Bill Oakes attempts to remain more faithful to James Jones’ hard-hitting masterpiece (published in 1951) than the film – the latter, for example, expunging all traces of the book’s homosexuality, either explicit or implied – and manages, via some fairly skilful shorthand, to reduce the 861-page novel’s salient plot points to about two and a half hours of running time.

In case you didn’t know, Jones’ celebrated pre-World War II epic begins about six months before the bombing of Pearl Harbor and follows the tribulations of several members of G Company at the Schofield Barracks in Hawaii. Central to the sprawling narrative is Private Robert E. Lee Prewitt (Robert Lonsdale), a “30-year man” (i.e. an infantry man who has given over his life to soldiering).

An erstwhile bugler of distinction as well as an accomplished welter- weight boxer, his value to the outfit is immediately diminished when he adamantly refuses to box or play the bugle anymore. It seems that in his youth he blinded a friend in the ring. Why he has hung up his bugle isn’t explained. At least not in the musical.

Prewitt’s non-negotiable behaviour results in his being victimised by the company’s Captain Holmes (Martin Marquez) who orders the outfit’s sadistic stockade Sergeant Galovitch (David Stoller) to break him into submission by subjecting him to regular sessions of punishing hazing rituals.

Prewitt’s only friend in the company is Private Angelo Maggio (Ryan Sampson), a gutsy and engaging character who supplements his income by “rolling queers” (offering sexual favours for money) at a local gay bar. He, too, is a victim of Galovitch’s sadism, and is beaten to death by him.

Yet another narrative strand woven into the novel’s fabric is the clandestine affair First Sergeant Milt Warden (Darius Campbell) is having with the Captain’s unhappily married, promiscuous wife Karen (Rebecca Thornhill).

Romantic interest is further served by the brief but rather touching affair between Prewitt and Lorene (Siubhan Harrison), a prostitute in a much in-demand Hawaiian brothel.

Speaking of sex, the famous beach scene in the 1953 movie, in which Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr make love in the pounding Hawaiian surf, goes for little here – as, it has to be said, it does in the novel.

The trouble is, cramming so much plot (with time out for 20 songs plus reprises) into just 140 minutes or so, plus intermission) is rather like shoe-horning a size 10 foot into a size six shoe. It’s not the most comfortable fit.

The result is a show bloated with incident but anorexic when it comes to characterisation. What we’re offered are caricatures, stereotypes and, at best, rough sketches rather than fully rounded flesh-and-blood people.

Nor are matters helped by composer Stuart Brayson and lyricist Tim Rice, whose pastiche score is pretty generic and undistinguished. Hardly any of the songs develop plot or character or have a personality germane to the material they’re supposed to enhance. They’re professional enough, but they’re interchangeable with any number of undistinguished musicals of the last 20 years. Many of them, such as "Love Me Forever Today" and "Another Language," could probably pass as pop singles rather than numbers written especially for this musical.

With the exception of the climactic bombing of Pearl Harbor, realistically rendered by Jon Driscoll’s vivid projections, the visual aspects of the show (sets and costumes by Soutra Gilmour) are undistinguished, though director Tamara Harvey, aided by Javier De Frutos’ serviceable choreography, manages to keep Jones’ multi-layered plot in focus.

When, however, you think of what Rodgers and Hammerstein accomplished with their wartime musical South Pacific, From Here to Eternity, for all its lofty ambitions, barely cuts the moutard.


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