Grand Hotel at Southwark Theatre
What could be more sparkling than a revival of Grand Hotel? An Academy award-winning film, adapted from Vick Baum’s bestselling novel, Menschen im Hotel, starring Gretta Garbo and Joan Crawford, Grand Hotel showcased over 1000 performances on Broadway and won multiple Tony Awards. Glitzy and full of retro razzmatazz, this production evokes the glamour of Berlin in the 1920s whilst trying to invoke something more meaningful and observant.
An ostentatious and timeless building protects within its walls the secrets of those who visit like passing ships on the bluest of seas, seduced by its splendour. Colonel-Doctor Otternschlag, a morphine-addicted veteran of the Great War, comments on the shenanigans with a weariness that suggests the misfortunes and vanity of its occupants are cyclical – much like the revolving doors fronting its elegant exterior.
Christine Grimandi plays ageing Russian prima ballerina Elizaveta Grushinskaya in the old Garbo role, injecting the right amount of self-contained grandeur. George Rae brims with nervous pathos as dying bookkeeper Otto Kingelein, yearning for a taste of the high life. Kingelein is assisted by Felix Von Gaigern, a young, attractive and destitute Baron who helps him secure a room in the overbooked hotel while Von Gaigern attempts to avert the demands of a lowly gangster to whom he is indebted, and who will stop at nothing to recoup what he is owed. Coerced into robbing Grushinskaya, Von Gaigern finds himself in love.
Meanwhile, a modest doorman, desperate to leave his post to be with his wife whom he fears to be dying in childbirth, dreads losing his job. Hermann Preysing, a ruthless wedded manager on the brink of financial ruin, presses his star-struck and ambitious secretary, Flaemmchen (played by Victoria Serra with old Hollywood grace and glamour) to accompany him to Boston and “take care of him”.
There’s certainly a lot going on. Possibly too much. And, as a result, the Disney-like love affair simmers with implausibility and ineptness amid the cynical, darkly comical quality that flows through the rest of the show.
Nevertheless, the cracking seven-piece orchestra, Thom Southerland’s stylish direction, Lee Proud’s witty choreography, and strong performances all round, especially by Scott Garnham as the bankrupt baron whose voice soars beyond the rafters, punch such dazzling panache that it is easy for the audience to overlook the production’s faults.
Grand Hotel is on at Southwark Theatre until 5th September 2015, for further information or to book visit here.