FROM HERE TO ETERNITY at the Charing Cross Theatre
“This is a finely tuned production that rides on its high values and first-rate performances from all involved”
The image that forms in most people’s mind when hearing the title “From Here to Eternity” is of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr’s adulterous, steamy embrace on the shores of the Hawaiian island of Oahu while the waves metaphorically release their foam around the lovers’ entangled limbs. The marketing of Fred Zinnemann’s WWII romance ensured a rave reception, but it strayed somewhat from James Jones’ original fifties novel, on which Tim Rice, Stuart Brayson, Donald Rice and Bill Oakes have more faithfully based their musical.
The film was censored somewhat, resulting in the themes of prostitution, homosexuality and abuse being either underplayed or written out completely. Rice and Oakes’ script thankfully reinstates them, although sometimes it feels like a passing gesture that is reaching out for further exploration. A straight drama would have the space to do this, but the harshness of the story lines is softened by this musical treatment. That’s not necessarily a drawback: Brayson’s exhilarating score, orchestrated by Musical Director Nick Barstow, packs a punch with its mix of military chants, dusky blues and power ballads, occasionally tinged with a Hawaiian twang. It is softer in Act One, but the kid gloves come off after interval and only then does the passion of the piece hit us. If the emotion comes through loud and clear through the singing, however, it falls a little flat during the dialogue.
Brett Smock’s fresh and dynamic staging begins at the end, before rewinding two weeks to lead us day by day to the horrific air strike on Pearl Harbour in December 1941. The days are counted down, like the pages of a calendar torn off by a captive serving time in a prison camp. As we approach the fatal morning when so many lives were needlessly lost, the complex and contradictory emotions of the American soldiers are expressed. “I Love the Army… I Hate the Army” is a leitmotif that more than one character extols.
Private Robert Lee Prewitt (Jonathon Bentley) reports to his new posting at G Company. His commanding officer Captain Holmes (brilliantly played by Alan Turkington) is relying on Prewitt to win the boxing championship, thereby increasing his own chances of promotion. Prewitt however refuses to fight having made a deathbed wish to give up boxing after accidentally blinding a fellow soldier. Holmes’ vengeful bullying extends to his dissatisfied wife, Karen (a cool and calculating Carley Stenson) who seeks solace by embarking on an affair with First Sergeant Milt Warden (Adam Rhys-Charles). Into the fold falls Private Angelo Maggio (Jonny Amies), a hot-headed New York Italian who moonlights as a paid companion to the local male community. Meanwhile Prewitt falls for the beautiful prostitute Lorene (Desmonda Cathabel) and dreams in vain of making a respectable woman of her. A highlight of the production is Eve Polycarpou’s Mrs Kipfer, the brothel’s hard-nosed ‘Madam’. Polycarpou certainly establishes her presence from the moment she steps onstage singing the showstopping “I Know What You Came For”.
Unencumbered by high emotion the storylines progress and overlap each other clearly and intelligibly. Cressida Carré’s choreography is dazzlingly crisp and inventive which the strong ensemble cast synchronize to perfection, not missing a beat from scene, to transition, to scene. Against Stewart J. Charlesworth’s concrete set, it is Adam King’s evocative lighting that truly transports us to the steamy and sultry tropical location.
This is a finely tuned production that rides on its high values and first-rate performances from all involved. The subject matter is reduced to more of an undertow, but the score washes over us in waves of delight. That’s no metaphor – none is needed here to ensure the rave reception this show will undoubtedly receive.
Reviewed on 8th November 2022
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Mark Senior
Previously reviewed at this venue: