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Five Finger Exercise review at the Print Room at the Coronet, London – ‘eloquent’

Terenia Edwards and Jason Merrells in Five Finger Exercise at the Print Room. Photo: Marc Brenner Terenia Edwards and Jason Merrells in Five Finger Exercise at the Print Room. Photo: Marc Brenner

There’s a lot going on beneath the surface of Peter Shaffer’s 1958 play. Though its set-up feels superficially familiar, Five Finger Exercise eloquently captures a post-war world on the turn and says much about the complexity of immigrant identity, the tangle of families, and the shifting, intricate relationships that so often exist between children and their parents.

Every member of the Harrington family appears to be carrying some sort of weight around with them, be it anxiety about their education, desirability or sexuality. Into their midst comes Walter, a kind and softly spoken young German tutor whose presence acts as catalyst, opening doors that had up until now been very firmly closed.

It’s a psychologically layered piece of writing, given a solid if unspectacular revival here by Jamie Glover. His production takes a good while to warm up – in more ways than one: the Print Room’s new space at the Coronet, a Sprague theatre in the process of being restored, is beautiful but also bitterly, unforgivingly cold.

Gradually the play reveals itself, its petals unfurling, but in the end it’s the cast that make the greatest impact. Tom Morley is suitably sharp and angular as the tightly wired Clive Harrington, an intelligent if troubled young man who hopes that university will give him the intellectual and social stimulation he craves; the gulf of incomprehension between father, sensitively played by Jason Merrells, and son is truly poignant. In the potentially tricky role of Walter, a young man in search of surrogate family, Lorne MacFadyen gives a performance of quiet charm and necessary gentleness.

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A solid production of Peter Shaffer’s elegant, eloquent play of familial love and its complexities