Theatre review: From Here To Eternity at Shaftesbury Theatre

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, , Lyrics  Tim Rice, Music  Stuart Brayson, Book  Bill Oakes, Di

FROM HERE TO ETERNITY, , Lyrics Tim Rice, Music Stuart Brayson, Book Bill Oakes, Director Tamara Harvey, Designer Soutra Gilmour, Choregrapher Javier De Frutos, Lighting Bruno Poet, London, 2013, Credit: Johan Persson/ - Credit: Archant

Sophisticated war tale deserves bolder direction, says Mariam Gillinson

From Here to Eternity

Shaftesbury Theatre


First the good news. The music for From Here to Eternity, written by West End newcomer Stuart Brayson, isn’t half bad. It’s a confident combination of blues, big band, early rock’n’roll and a splash of Hawaiian swagger. Tim Rice’s lyrics are decent and Darius Campbell, in particular, brings a little smouldering soul to Brayson’s solid score.

The source text is also promising. Eternity is based on James Jones’s semi-autobiographical novel, which tells the story of a restless platoon of American soldiers based in Pearl Harbour, Hawaii, as the Second World War blazes elsewhere. It is a dark story with unusual heroes: pacifists, whores, adulterers and homosexuals.

Such a sophisticated story demands a mature book – but Bill Oakes’s script is clunky, naive and poorly focused. Soutra Gilmour’s lumpy set adds little atmosphere and looks like a cross between an abandoned temple and Fred Flintstone’s cave. Tamara Harvey’s direction feels timid, verging on old-fashioned.

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For a show that revolves around a brothel, this is weirdly unsexy. The love scenes between Darius’s Sergeant Warden and Captain’s wife Karen (Rebecca Thornbill) feel stiff – and not in a good way. The parallel love story between soldier Prewitt (Robert Lonsdale) and prostitute Lorene (Siubhan Harrison) never takes off.

The best love duet is between Sergeant Warden and Prewitt. Ain’t Where I Wanna Be Blues is a wistful blues number, which combines Darius’s oaky voice and Lonsdale’s contemporary crooning to sparky effect. The other duets are much shakier and the singers sound over-stretched despite strong support from a 15-piece band.

Alongside these stilted romances is a dark sub-plot involving a homosexual soldier, Private Angelo (Ryan Sampson), who is treated terribly by the country he serves. There’s a scorching indictment of the army in here but director Harvey never sticks the knife in. It feels like she’s afraid of offending the West End crowd.

Gruelling fights are played out in cheesy slow motion. Dangerous love affairs are staged amid billowing dry ice and passionate clinches are underscored with drum rolls. The final battle provokes not tears but joy; it is the end of a very long night.

Booking until April 2014.

Miriam Gillinson