A gripping piece of brave drama

Five Finger Exercise, by Peter Shaffer, Suffolk Summer Theatres, Jubilee Hall, Aldeburgh until September 1 and St Edmunds Hall, Southwold, September 3–15

Families – who’d want to be a member of one of those?

Shaffer’s psychological drama takes some time to fully set out the strained relationships in this “ordinary” middle-class family grouping but audience patience is rewarded with a gripping piece of drama and a final sequence which is devastating in its emotional charge.

Ann Wenn and Michael Shaw play the bickering husband and wife, Louise and Stanley Harrison. The latter, fiercely proud of his business success but disparaging of his wife’s higher, cultural interests, is constantly pressurising his mixed-up, 19-year-old son, Clive, to make the best of his life.

This is a sensitive performance by Shaw who, amidst all the hectoring and bullying, reveals glimpses of Stanley’s real love for his son and his dejection at the failure of the two to get on.

Wenn also produces real depth for her character, a frustrated and unhappily married woman denigrating her husband’s “trade” background and desperately clinging to an immature son who is complicit in the childish role-playing games she instigates.

Clive, the pivotal character in this drama, is played brilliantly by Iain Ridley.

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All three of them turn for understanding to Walter Langer, Clive’s sister’s tutor who, despite all the tensions, has found real contentment in the household. But it is Walter (a beautifully under-stated performance by Peter Hoggart) who unwittingly becomes the catalyst for a full family meltdown. Tragedy is imminent.

A superb cast is completed by Holly Jones who is convincing as Clive’s gawky 13-year-old sister, Pamela.

This is a brave choice of play for the Aldeburgh and Southwold summer season where lighter stuff is the usual diet and one which is lapped up by residents and visitors alike.

But, in the hands of director, Richard Frost, this season’s final play is a surprising winner.

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