A rare production of this early Peter Shaffer masterpiece
Before Salieri sparred with Mozart in ‘Amadeus’, before Daniel Radcliffe whipped out his magic wand in ‘Equus’, came ‘Five Finger Exercise’ – Peter Shaffer’s first big success.
It’s a tense drama that follows the Harringtons, a family who can’t seem to stop arguing, and young German tutor Walter who comes to live with them. Something sinister simmers under the surface in Jamie Glover’s production – Walter’s German, it’s the ’50s, there’s probably going to be some Nazi shizzle going down.
It takes a long while for the cast to get into its stride, with a bit too much broad stroke capital-A-acting. But my god are Shaffer’s characters tricky little things - rich, complex, working with and against each other in endlessly shifting ways.
While Lucy Cohu seems to be in charge at first, capturing the Nigella bustle and the flashing eyes of a glamorous matriarch, it’s the two boys of the household who begin to dominate.
The son, Clive, who’s just started at Cambridge is a careful blend of conceitedness - the haughty teen who realises he’s cleverer than his pathetic parents - and raw pinkness like rare steak - his adolescent mind suddenly thrusting him, emotions first, into this expanding and depressing world. Tom Morley almost gets all that in his performance but he needs to rein it all in slightly.
Lorne Macfadyen as Walter puts in the strongest show, remaining always reserved and restrained, with just a whisper of a German accent. He’s a gentle and commanding presence on the huge two-level set.
The family home (Andrew D Edwards’s design) is made of bare scaffold, around which all the dramas and traumas of the house are exposed. There are no walls. There’s nowhere to hide, and plenty of places to eavesdrop. It’s a beautiful sight, even if the whole bloody room clatters when anyone moves, let alone walks, on the loose floorboards.
It’s a worthy revival of a clearly stunning play, but the performances are slightly looser than Shaffer’s precision-engineered characters deserve.