[Review:] FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, Charing Cross Theatre, London.
I am afraid, I must express that this is a markedly shallow performance.
Acting style is caricatural across the entirety of the cast, not so much an issue on the performers’ part but on that of the writing, which remains incredibly superficial, predictable and unvitalised.
Jonny Amies (playing Maggio) certainly stands out from the rest of the cast, especially with the majority of lines being offered to him, despite his secondary significance in the plot, and this is because of the particularised and credible, though certainly not naturalistic, profile he presents. Nevertheless, led by the text, even his portrayal remains, overall, robotic and unvaried. Amies has a propensity to perform his lines energetically, fast, and then to physically retract, leaning backwards, becoming silent. This pattern persists throughout his entire performance but does present itself significantly less frequently as the performance progresses.
Other breaths of fresh air include Eve Polycarpou (playing Mrs Kipfer), Carley Stenson (playing Karen) and Desmonda Cathabel (playing Lorene) who also share a good degree of particularisation, credibility and conviction in their portrayals, despite text and direction. All other performers, I am afraid, seem unable to fight against the sterility and superficiality of the text and hence succumb to — and understandably so.
The text itself races through a vague and unenlightening narrative, relying upon its audience’s pre-existing knowledge of the source-text upon which this musical is based, James Jones’s novel, for any profound appeal in its fragmented, rushed and vignette-heavy narrative. More importantly, however, it relies upon their acceptance of its plot ‘developments’ — or, rather, ‘incidents’ — such as the fact that after one, singular meeting that sees Prewitt (Robin Hayward) barely interact with Lorene, question her circumstances and promptly leave, we are to believe that the two have a strong, destined and vibrant burgeoning love, to overlook the lack of information we have received to contextualise their romantic duet and to regard their ‘love story’ as profound and moving. Other elements are simply glossed over: Karen’s affairs, Prewitt’s inability to fight due to related trauma, the soldiers’ difficulties with being involved in the army…and suddenly we have a brothel and a plague of illicit homosexual activity. Even the chronology of these events is ill-communicated, with the play beginning in early December and moving through to the end of December, only to return back to the 7th halfway through, with no comprehensible explanation. It seems that the writers, Tim Rice, Stuart Brayson, Donald Rice and Bill Oakes, have struggled intensely to condense Jones’s story into a coherent, articulate, structured and resonant performance, transforming it, instead, into a mere sensationalist typification of its themes and character types.
The resulting superficiality is notably unaided by the overly sentimental and wallowing solos we are endlessly presented, as well as the general lyrics of the musical. Hammy, self-centred, it seems as though the lyricists are relying upon the songs to invoke emotion and feeling in a story otherwise devoid of character development, relatability and psychological realism. Similarly, it is also clear that the creatives are relying on the stock clown/dork figure, in regard to Maggio, to invoke an emotional response from the audience, particularly with the tribulations that he undergoes. These ‘techniques’ feel far too deliberate, prising psychological results from the audience members, as opposed to concentrating on coherent and resonant contexts and events that shape our characters and their psychologies.
Admittedly, the choruses of a good number of the songs are well composed and engaging, but the vast, vast majority of the lyrics are repetitive and insignificant or, more infrequently, overly sentimental in comparison to the play’s spoken content.
The traverse staging, practically a round stage with the few audience members permitted along the sides of the stage, is a most peculiar decision, given that the creatives have paid little attention in choreography and blocking to the performers’ visibility, unaided by the set design’s (by Stewart Charlesworth) pillars and palm trees on each corner. On the topic of choreography (by Cressida Carré), this is incredibly repetitive and unvaried, with the majority of movement isolated to the upper body. Lending to this aforementioned caricaturality, saluting, marching and filing quickly become an all-too-familiar repertoire.