Pros: This nuanced approach to the experiences of a Jewish refugee in Nazi-occupied Europe provides for interesting subject matter. An innovative piece of musical theatre too!
Cons: On occasion there is an unsatisfying mixture of realism and surrealism.
I’ve never seen a musical quite like The Grand Tour before, with no all-singing, all-dancing opening number. Neither does it have a rousing closing number. Instead Alastair Brookshaw, playing a Jewish refugee named S. L. Jacabowsky, opens the show with a weary yet resolute solo. Indeed The Grand Tour proves to be full of intriguing and quirky performances throughout.
Set during the Second World War, the story follows Jacabowsky in his flight from Nazi persecution. As the German army approaches Paris, Jacabowsky obtains a car in which he plans to escape. However, he cannot drive! Fortunately he runs into a Polish Colonel who can: a man tasked with delivering classified papers to a British agent. The pair travel together, picking up the Colonel’s fiancé Marianne along the way. As the journey progresses Jacabowsky develops a close relationship with his companions, but it soon becomes apparent that he and Marianne wish that they could be more than friends.
The Grand Tour explores an interesting mixture of themes, and addresses the emotional and psychological pressures faced by an individual refugee with nuance and flair. While Jacabowky appears eternally optimistic, he clearly endures a complex internal struggle as he tries to identify his place in the world. Alistair Brookshaw gives an impressive performance here, with sustained and complex characterisation. The Grand Tour also explores the influence of social divides. The Colonel and Jacobowsky are unlikely travelling companions – an upper class Christian and a poor Jewish refugee brought together by extraordinary circumstance. While generally good, the Colonel’s upper-class qualms about Jacabowsky can appear a little hammy. Nonetheless the exploration of these themes makes for an interesting evening.
Throughout this musical the songs explore a refugee’s trials, social division, and love. A lot of musical strength lies in the wit of the show’s song lyrics. For example, during ‘Mrs Jacobowsky’ – in which the protagonist considers marrying a Christian wife – Jacabowsky sings, “I’ll respect her wishes, we’ll go to mass and she’ll start using separate dishes.” What is more, Brookshaw, Nic Kyle (the Colonel), and Zoë Doano (Marianne) all exhibit exceptionally strong vocals. Finborough Theatre is a small venue, so there isn’t space for a whole band. Instead, the songs are accompanied by piano music. My only criticism is that on occasion the balance was a little off. Though this is only a slight technical issue.
While a generally serious and realistic play, The Grand Tour makes use of some slightly surreal techniques. Most notably when, in an odd twist of events, the Colonel and Jacobowksy end up performing with a circus in order to save their lives. Unfortunately, these more experimental scenes appear out of place with the rest of play. At times, this musical lies unsatisfactory in a no man’s land between realism and surrealism. These occasional snags do not, however, detract from the production’s overall quality.
Phil Lindley’s set is especially effective. The back drop of a map of Europe impresses upon us the geographical scale of World War Two, while also communicating the enormity of the protagonists’ journey. What is more, various sections of the set wall fold out to provide innovative location-changes, and the entire cast deliver complex set changes with impressive fluidity.
Overall The Grand Tour is a slick, interesting and innovative production. It’s definitely worth a watch!
Book: Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble (Based on the play Jacobowsky and The Colonel by Franz Werfel as adapted by S. N. Behrman)
Director: Thom Sutherland
Music and Lyrics: Jerry Herman
Librettists: Michael Stewart and Mark Bramble
Producer and Casting Director: Danielle Tarento
Booking Until: 21 February 2015
Box Office: 0844 847 1652
Booking Link: http://www.finboroughtheatre.co.uk/productions/2014/the-grand-tour.php