John Bowles is a respected tv presenter, theatre and concert performer.

Review: From Here To Eternity – Love Story or War epic?

From Here To Eternity was an interesting night at the theatre, two shows in one really, as the first act was a love story and the second act a war drama!    

‘From Here To Eternity’ is a 1953 movie starring Burt Lancaster, Deborah Kerr, Montgomery Clift, Frank Sinatra and Donna Reed.  It is famous for two things; a scene considered shocking at the time where Burt Lancaster rolled around in the waves with Deborah Kerr and also it marked the return to film for Frank Sinatra, who ultimately went to win the Best Supporting Actor at the Oscars ,along with Donna Reed.

Tim Rice and Sir Andrew Lloyd-Webber are one of the most successful writing teams in theatre history.  Ironically, this season saw both of them with their names outside of West End theatres, but this time separately.  Lloyd-Webber recently opened his ‘Stephen Ward’ musical at The Aldwych, and the Shaftsbury Theatre hosts ‘From Here To Eternity’ which Tim Rice wrote with Stuart Brayson.  The James Jones book has been adapted here by Bill Oakes.

I have been interested to see this musical since it opened about six months ago but the reason I have repeatedly hesitated is because of the posters I looked at endlessly in the tube stations.  The poster was asking me to be drawn into a second world war love story and the lead actors looked positively hostile and unhappy in all of the executions.  image.axdI marvel at how often theatre posters get it wrong.  It is one of the few opportunities to promote a show and often posters are uninspiring, or worse still, they simply do no represent the show you are going to see.  In this case I just had no response to seeing lead actors, in steamy set-ups, looking un-steamy and unattractive.

This musical has been well constructed, with an effective design that serves the play, and a more than competent cast, but there is something missing.  A little like the poster, the actors don’t really gel and I didn’t connect with the journey they were taking me on.  Darius Campbell was a stand out.  He looked the part, and his resonant speaking voice was a real asset.  He stood like a leading man and outshone Robert Lonsdale, who seemed to in a different show.

And there in lies the problem with ‘From Here To Eternity’.  It is two shows in one.  The first act set up the relationships and tangled emotions of a tightly-knit army barracks training hard and waiting for war.  The choreography was great; tight, inventive and physical.  Darius Campbell (First Sergeant Mitt Warden) emerges as a true leading man risking his career in pursuit of a relationship with his superior’s wife Rebecca Thornhill (playing Karen Holmes).

In the second act the base is attacked by the Japanese and what emerges is high-energy, guns blazing, war drama  complete with gun fire and rear screen video of aircraft flying overhead.  Robert Lonsdale, as the troubled Private E. Lee Prewitt, belongs much more comfortably in this second act but by this time the show seems long and the drama had drifted.  Staging such big action scenes is always difficult and these scenes are very well done.  I left the theatre feeling like a lot of effort had gone into telling a very big story and I was largely unaffected by it all; a feeling that seemed to be shared by the audience.

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