Five Finger Exercise
The Print Room Coronet
21 January 2015
Director Jamie Glover brings us this excellent revival of Peter Shaffer’s earliest stage success, which centres around a nuclear family and their German tutor in 1950’s English countryside. Aptly staged on a two-tier scaffold home, his revival strips upper class entitlement down to its primitive bones, and the audience hanker like dogs to be thrown all the juicy meat.
The Harrington’s country home provides an escape from war torn London in order that the children learn to appreciate a ‘healthy upbringing in the world outside’. Their situational removal from conflict, however, sharpens the focus on the battles within their own four walls. Lorne MacFadyen plays Walter, the new German tutor who serves as a confidant to each family member respectively. Kind and soft-voiced, Walter counters the selfishness of the Harrington’s, and holds a mirror to their desires and frustrations. Perfectly cast in this demanding role, MacFadyen demonstrates staunch incorruptibility that yields a dark secret of its own. In attempt to escape his past and be accepted by the Harrington’s, it is ultimately Walter who falls into the cracks that emerge in this broken home.
We befriend every character in this gorgeously cast production. Jason Merrells commands respect as Stanley Harrington, whose place at the head of the family is threatened by Walter’s arrival. His fatherly advice to Cambridge educated Clive constantly misfires, and endears us to the older generations whose simple values fall behind cultural trends. Lucy Cohu plays the domineering Louise Harrington, who hides her marital dissatisfaction by stifling her children with love. Cohu brings colourful expression to this lonely housewife, whose façade of dry wit slowly crumbles to reveal her inner desperation.
Terenia Edwards plays an excitable young Pamela, who is allowed to indulge her adolescent impulses and on the verge of being too spoilt. Edwards keeps the role light-hearted, however, and breathes a refreshing innocence into the production. Tom Morley offers a standout performance as Clive, the sensitive son who is romanced by new school ways of thinking. Feeling misunderstood, he takes to the bottle and seeks companionship with Walter, which opens his heart to confusion and betrayal. Morley’s performance during the climax of this play is blistering.
Walter gives voice to Shaffer’s simple message: ‘You must forgive your parents being average and wrong when you worshipped them once.’ For as long as there are families, this poignant script will resonate with them. The music plays somewhat apologetically from offstage, but despite that, it is a near perfect restoration that does justice to its stunning location at The Print Room Coronet.