Friday 19 January 2018

‘Five Finger Exercise’

The Print Room, Notting Hill (until 13 Feb 2016)

I remember as a child being confused when some people said they hated the holidays because it was awful having all the family together. The gatherings of our extended family were always occasions of mirth and merriment and not a few jibes — not to mention a long-term dispute over the precise location of Watertown, New York. The theatre of disfunctional families never hugely appealed to me, then, but over a few bottles of Erdinger in Kennington t’other night a friend dropped word of ‘Five Finger Exercise’ at the Print Room in Notting Hill (the old Coronet) and I thought I’d give it a go.

Peter Shaffer’s (‘Amadeus, ‘Equus’, etc.) play was first put on in 1958 under the direction of John Gielgud. The harmony of the Harrington family is not particularly upset by the arrival of a young German tutor Walter at the outset. Father Stanley — self-made man and head of a successful furniture company — is unbothered by his arrival at the instigation of the upwardly mobile mother Louise — imagine Mrs Bucket from ‘Keeping Up Appearances’ but half-French and with a cut-glass 1950s voice — who thinks it quite the done thing to have a live-in tutor teaching French to her daughter Pamela. The son Clive is just off to Cambridge so he’s all done and dusted and nothing to worry about. But then…

The remarkable thing about ‘Five Finger Exercise’ which makes it particularly close to life is how every character is effectively innocent and yet each character is to blame. Stanley has pursued work and the golf club while abdicating the rearing of children to his overbearing and pretentious wife, who is fixated into making sure they are just so. Clive has all the weaknesses of the typical self-obsessed teenager, but genuinely wants to love the father he feels only questions him. And Walter, so fixated with the mere fact of being in England and away from Germany and the past (and family) that he cannot see how his presence has upset a delicate balance. Little Pamela is mostly blameless, though.

Lucy Cohu as mother Louise is superb in voice, deportment, tone — everything. At first Jason Merrels (Stanley) fools the audience into thinking he is a settled old uncaring simpleton. But when push comes to shove Merrels displays the real emotion of the father who just doesn’t understand but wishes he could. Terenia Edwards is simply a delight — charming, sweet, and innocent, and perfectly conveying the hint that she may be on the cusp of something else. And I am surprised that the actor playing Walter (Lorne MacFadyen) is not German. (But then he was acting, I suppose.) Tom Morley, however, carried the weight of the play as Clive, taking a difficult role and giving us a convincing and credible performance. A brilliant actor.

The Director Jamie Glover deserves accolades for crafting a production that is fun, true to life, and, in the end, haunting.

4 February 2016 9:15 am | Permanent Link | 1 Comment »

4 Feb 2016 5:21 pm

Too bad I am on the other side of the pond.

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