Those who regard a mid-life crisis as matter for tragedy, requiring long faces and unplumbable depths of sensitivity might blink at four stars and a reviewer disposition to take this play seriously. It consists of ninety minutes of themed solo stand-up tragi-comedy given by Jonathan Guy Lewis with passion and irrepressible gusto.
Lewis is also a master of accents. He shifts from cultivated artiness to shambling teenage resentment without pause as speakers interrupt each other. The horn that Jasper (the main narrator) finds, has a starring role, both when being played and when engaging in debate with its owner. (Being a Hungarian model, it naturally speaks with a Hungarian accent.)
Jasper is in his mid-forties. His wife is throwing him out of the house (apparently for general ineffectuality). His mid-teenage son is loutish and contemptuous to his dad, whom he sees merely as a source of loans which he has no intention of repaying. As Jasper is clearing his worldly possessions out of the attic he comes across his horn, in its case. He has, apparently neither seen nor opened that case since a humiliating failure arising from his (fairly) ineffectual attempts to play it in a student competition.
It is a foregone conclusion, a matter of fate and of inevitability, that he should determine that his route back to self-esteem must lead to a performance at the annual gathering of the British Horn Society. He embarks on a voyage that seems bound to lead to further humiliation. (Jonathan apparently heard the book in which Jasper Rees told his own true story being read on the radio. He rushed out and bought it, read it, then made a phone call.) He himself had been a very promising horn player, aged 11. But over years of competitive success, he gradually lost interest and when he got to grade 8, didn’t take the exam. Hence his conviction that this story would make a wonderful one-man show for him to perform.
He was right. As a former brass player myself, I watched with the mounting conviction that we were going to be watch a man’s return, against the odds, to a skill which he had abandoned.
I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that the twenty-somethings who made up the bulk of the audience were brass students from the London music colleges, so intent and apparently well informed was their concentrated interest.
The result is a theatrical experience that must provide a shot in the arm for anyone who sees it. We move through a cacophony of lip slips, losses of breath, wrong fingerings and out of tune sour or sharp notes, along with diatribes about the fact that playing French horn parts often requires, for technical reasons I won’t go into, transposition from the key shown on the printed page to another.
But, come the finale of what must be an exhausting 90 minutes for Jonathan Guy Lewis, he delivers an imperfect but creditable performance of the rondo from Mozart’s third horn concerto. I was not the only scribbler in the audience who put down their pen to join in the thunderous clapping and cheers.
I must have another go at my trumpet sometime.