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A CurtainUp London Review
Grand Hotel couldn't be more of a contrast with its venue. Set in Berlin between the wars, this hotel is the domain of the very rich whereas Southwark figures in Booth's 1889 map of London as the home of the vicious semi-criminal classes or the very poor in chronic want. However such are current London property values that Southwark is on the rise and residents are discovering their local playhouse has an exciting programme.
Grand Hotel opens with the polarisation of the staff and the guests. The choreography is so elegant, rich and exciting as the guests stop and turn getting every ounce of attention. Two women sit at a small table and the women, chairs and table are all raised aloft for "Table with A View" and of course all eyes are on them.
We meet some of the guests; the aging Russian ballet dancer, Madame Grushinskaya (Christine Grimandi) and her devoted companion, the statuesque Raffaela (Valerie Cutko). There is the impoverished Baron Felix von Gaigern (Scott Garnham) who is being hounded by threatening debt collectors. Colonel-Doctor Otternschlag (David Delve) wears a leg brace and is a victim of the First World War now dispensing misery.
Poor and Jewish and dying from consumption, Otto Kriglein (George Rae) is at first turned away as, even as early as 1928, anti-semitism is prevalent. Fortunately the baron uses his influence and a room is found for the Jewish writer who wants to die in the luxurious surroundings and near the famous people of the Grand Hotel.
The pacey direction keeps the play lively and two black bell hops, the two Jimmies (Durone Stokes and Jammy Kasongo) thrilling dance with boaters. Flaemmchen (Victoria Serra) in a diverting red dress tells of her Hollywood ambition while waiting to carry out secretarial duties for a businessman Hermann Preysing (Jacob Chapman).
The stories are engrossing; the love story between the baron and the ballerina has us, and her, questioning his real motives. The Charleston dance is thrilling, and in a startling finale we see the anger of the staff, marching against the guests and we remember that this is Germany on the brink of fascist rule.
This production is near genius with great singing and choreography. The exception, the night I saw, was Valerie Cutko whose odd, quivering delivery conveyed more emotion than tune. Scott Garnham's baron and Christine Grimadi's Elizaveta are finely sung and acted and Victoria Serra's Flaemmchen is also outstanding. On press night, not even a London-wide tube strike could leave a seat empty.
Retold by Tina Packer of Shakespeare & Co.
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