Thursday, September 28, 2006

The Keys Don't Work

Piano/Forte, Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Sloane Square, London, Saturday September 23 2006.

In Terry Johnson's Piano/Forte, Oliver Cotton plays a disgraced Tory MP about to get married for the third time in his country residence, to a glamour model he met amongst the witchety grubs of the reality show that enabled his public redemption. Alicia Witt and Kelly Reilly play (twin?) daughters from his first ill-fated marriage, who have reacted in starkly divergent ways to their mother's suicide - Witt's Abigail, a talented pianist, has withdrawn into stammering agorophobia tended to by her Australian uncle Ray (Danny Webb, in the play's most convincing performance), while Reilly's Louise has travelled across Europe drifting into a life of transient jobs, promiscuity and mediocre circus stunts. When Louise arrives unexpectedly back at the house on the eve of the wedding, with mischief on her mind, the stage is set for a weekend of ribaldry, revelation and recrimination.

Johnson plays with a number of theatrical staples here (country house melodrama; bedroom farce; an Agatha Christie style whodunnit and Hitchcockesque psychodrama, complete with a murmuration of swallows waiting to swoop), stirring in some modern elements of light satire on celebrity culture and showstopping sexual content (Reilly revels in a bold scene where her character descends a staircase topless and torments her father; the Spanish caterers are revealed as erotic acrobats whose wedding performance culminates in public ejaculation and inadvertent buggery) amidst the wordplay, psychological intrigue and special effects. The result is a slightly overlong but hugely entertaining and often funny play, rich in atmosphere if ultimately low on point, moderately hampered by an elaborate set design ill-fitted for purpose in this theatre space, making it near-impossible to view all areas of the action from many of the seats.

Piano-Forte continues at the Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, Royal Court, until October 14.

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