This is certainly a grittier and more masculine take of Tim Rice and Stuart Brayson’s musical based on the novel by James Jones.
When I first saw this musical in the West End several years ago, I was automatically swept away by the romance, the tragedy and the characters so vividly brought to life. This new production takes a different view, framing it more from the perspective of war as opposed to focus on the two central romantic relationships, leaving it feel more gritty and a closer examination about what masculinity means, homophobia and racism.
Set during the two weeks leading up to the Japanese invasion of Pearl Harbour, From Here to Eternity follows a group of soldiers as the adapt to life in Hawaii and potentially being involved with World War II. Into this mix arrives Prewitt – who despite being transferred for his skills in the boxing ring refuses to fight, leading to much mockery and abuse from his fellow soldiers and superiors and eventually leading him into trouble. At the same time he develops a relationship with Lorene and a friendship with Maggio (who can’t resist winding people up and getting in trouble. On the other side of this, is the forbidden relationship between Warden and his commanding officer’s wife Karen that here feels more fully developed.
The change of focus in the way in which the story has been framed is interesting and Brett Smock’s production packs a punch in all the right places – but at the centre of it all, the focus should still have been on the central romances – the music (despite some songs that have been cut) suggests this and it is a shame that the development of the relationships seems to have been sidelined. This being said, to see the camaraderie between the group of soldiers means that there feels an extra poignancy, particularly when projections of names of the Boys of ’41 are projected on to the stage at the end is a lovely touch.
Despite songs being cut or changed (I did really miss ‘Don’cha Like Hawaii’ for example), I still maintain this is a musical with songs that make an impact emotionally – just listen to ‘The Boys of ’41’ and ‘I Love the Army’ which particularly pack a punch. But the variety of songs equally is impressive -the romantic ‘Love Me Forever Today’ and the bluesy sounding ‘Ain’t Where I wanna Be Blues’ are particular highlights – it certainly doesn’t rely on one trick to propel the story and characters forward. Nick Barstow’s orchestrations are uplifting and refreshing, again enhancing the different perspective of the story this production takes.
Visually, although in places the movement and choreography comes across a little bit restricted that suggests this is a production that needs a slightly bigger stage there is still plenty to enjoy. Adam King’s lighting design is striking – particularly during the climatic scenes when the attack on Pearl Harbour happens, which combined with Cressida Carre’s clever choreography enhances the powerfulness and significance of the moment. Louise Rhoades-Brown’s video projections are also effective – particularly so during the famous beach scene.
The cast all do well with their performances – but a special mention should go to Jonny Amies as Maggio, who has some of the strongest and powerful moments in the show – making you laugh with his cheekiness one minute and breaking your heart at seeing the way in which he is treated by those in charge. It is a spirited and powerful performance that will stay with you after the show has finished. Elsewhere, Jonathan Bentley makes for an excellent Prewitt – self-contained, introspective and tormented throughout it is a detailed performance, while Adam Rhys-Charles has plenty of charisma as the principled Warden.
Overall, this is a refreshing and enjoyable production of From Here to Eternity – despite missing out slightly on the romantic qualities of the story that made the finale so tragic it still offers a new perspective that is pleasing to watch unfold.
By Emma Clarendon
From Here to Eternity will run at the Charing Cross Theatre until the 17th December.