2 PIANOS 4 HANDS Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt Comedy Theatre, London, 12 October 1999
This was an unclassifiable evening of music theatre, sponsored by Steinways, Classic fm and the Canadian High Commission, for which it is hard to find adequate superlatives. It should interest every reader of S&H. After more than 600 performances across the Atlantic and in Birmingham, this semi-autobiographical account of two lives in classical music, written by two doubly accomplished duo-pianist actors, has arrived in the West End, where it ought to remain for hundreds more performances. It was a triumph on every count.
The action at and around two Steinway pianos takes us step by step through the agonies of piano teaching and learning, with early childhood practising under parental supervision, which is brilliantly caricatured, through to late adolescence and the confrontation with the realities of adult life in the music profession. Locally they have excelled; eventually they come to recognise their limitations and face the truth. Disillusion is confronted by one at a conservatoire audition, then by the other at a jazz school where he had sought possible salvation. Finally, the issues become whether and when to quit, and what to do then.
This melancholy story is told with irresistible humour and high acting and pianistic skill. Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt enact some twenty different characters in twenty different ways and accents, without costumes. All of us have experienced many of the situations, and cannot fail to recognise teachers we can remember, and ourselves as child or parent. It is achingly funny.
Whilst 2 Pianos 4 Hands is highly specific in every telling detail, the world of the classical piano is equally a metaphor for the struggle towards supreme excellence which is beyond most of us, whether in the performing arts, sports or professions. Dykstra and Greenblatt are no mean pianists, and their performances of Bach's D minor concerto, and of excerpts from the classical piano canon, demonstrates how close they both might have been to making it. They have found their salvation in writing and performing this marvellous show and too in highly successful and varied theatrical careers in Canada.
The direction by Jeremy Sams, the set and its lighting all contribute to the triumph of this well honed and sophisticated show. An additional bonus is the programme book, uncommonly good value for money for once, with biographical information that is of central relevance on this occasion. There are four fascinating pages of interview material about Ted's and Richard's formative years spent with the piano, which they have explored and exorcised in 2 Pianos 4 Hands. Well worth a special trip to London.
Peter Grahame Woolf
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