“She got all dressed up and went to a sexy club in Ipswich”
In the characterful, if chilly, auditorium of former cinema The Coronet, actor Jamie Glover has returned to the world of directing with this little-seen debut play from Peter Shaffer (he of Equus and Amadeus). Set in the 1950s, Five Finger Exercise follows the Harrington family as they retire to their Suffolk country cottage to try and ease their dysfunctional ways but the employment of a young German tutor shatters what uneasy peace existed as his interactions with each cause mayhem and meltdown.
In some ways it is quintessentially English, hints of Coward-like playfulness and Rattiganesque repression but as a programme note points out, Shaffer’s time in the US as a young man is just as much in evidence with the ferocity of the emotion that spills out here. Strapping and handsome Walter thinks he found the ideal family unit in which to seek refuge from his Nazi officer father but one by one, he releases something in each Harrington that simply won’t go back.
Lucy Cohu’s gorgeous and aspirational Louise finds little happiness in her marriage to Jason Merrells’ Stanley, a deliberately uncultured man but even if she considers herself above his furniture-making business, she’s certainly not above spending its profits. Instead, she turns her attentions full-throttle onto their son Clive, stunting his emotional growth, and in turn Walter himself, where her flirtations arouse somewhat different feelings.
Tom Morley’s gangly Clive further typifies this emotional confusion by being a nervous wreck. His family think that going to university has unsettled him but Glover and Morley suggest his deep desolation lies in his closeted homosexuality – the scene where he pyschs himself up to make Walter a proposal, taking the German’s pretty blond head into his hands, is terribly affecting, not least for its abortive ending. It’s a strong performance indeed from Morley.
Merrells finds a real pathos in gruff depths of the taciturn Stanley, so very lonely in a family he can’t understand and who won’t make the effort with him, and Terenia Edwards’ Pamela is sparky enough as the teenage daughter on the cusp of maturity. Playing against all of them, and being different things to them all too, is a big ask for Walter and Lorne MacFadyen makes a decent fist of it, an intriguing figure throughout but one buffeted by the crosswinds of their ire.
Andrew D Edwards’ opened-out house design works well, especially for the odd stylistic touch Glover brings, though on a purely practical level, the bare floorboards make for very noisy footsteps when actors are trying to speak. There’s some excellent cardigan work from the costume team to compensate and the overall feel is one of powerful intrigue that I really enjoyed.