From Here to Eternity review – guns n’ poses in a well-drilled musical

<span>Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian</span>
Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The members of G Company are going stir crazy in Hawaii. The only fighting they’re doing is in the boxing ring and their perfectly polished guns have barely been fired. “I love the army. I hate the army,” the soldiers spit out and sing. It’s a typically pared back refrain from Tim Rice, whose lyrics are the most striking aspect of this musical set two weeks before the Pearl Harbor attack, as frustration and tension builds and the army begins to turn on itself.

Brett Smock’s tight production is certainly an improvement on the 2013 London premiere. There’s an intimacy and intensity to proceedings, despite Donald Rice and Bill Oakes’ fractured book. Everything feels crisp, well-drilled and focused, although there are one too many projected images of the lapping ocean – perhaps in a nod to the famous 1953 film adaptation of James Jones’s novel.

Cressida Carré’s neatly energetic choreography doesn’t feel particularly new but it does the job, infusing the space with a billowing masculine energy that has nowhere to go. The action is slightly slowed down by Stewart J Charlesworth’s set, which is populated with great slabs of concrete that the soldiers repeatedly raise, pose with and drop, in a gesture that starts to feel heavy-handed.

Muscular and committed ensemble … From Here To Eternity.
Muscular and committed ensemble … From Here To Eternity. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

The ensemble is muscular, musical and committed. The performances aren’t hugely subtle, but they’re not helped by a script riddled with cliches. There is little Desmonda Cathabel and Carley Stenson can do to revive the particularly thin female roles, despite their rich singing voices. Jonathon Bentley lacks aggression as new recruit Prewett but comes alive when he sings his raging big number, Fight the Fight.

Despite the variety in tone – with splashes of jazz, swing, military march and smoky cabaret – Stuart Brayson’s score often feels stuck in demo mode. His songs are the suggestion of a feeling or the beginning of an idea, but rarely their full expression. One of the few numbers with a proper kick is I Love the Army, sung with vicious passion by Jonny Amies who makes a strong impression as a gay soldier, slowly beaten to death by the very institution he has pledged his life to.