IN BRIEF There is truth, hope and humour in this delightfully quirky historically-set tale, ravishingly set and skilfully told.
This charming and slightly surreal tale concerns the self-obsessed Ludwig, King of Bavaria who can only write poetry (badly) to himself, his daughter, Princess Alexandra- a delicate youth who appears neurotic and deluded, believing that she has swallowed a glass piano as a child; and a maid, Galstina, who is smarter than the other two and has ideas above her station. There is also the matter of the King’s escaped wife, but more of that later.
These three souls live in isolation, with minimal contact and in a state of stagnation. The arrival of newcomer Lucien Bonaparte, a philologist (the study of language), changes everything for the characters. Representing the outside world, he brings happiness to the Princess by falling in love with her, a more outward-looking approach to the King through helping him with his writing, and happiness to the frustrated Maid who has never known her place, and has been secretly trysting with the King since his Wife’s departure.
All seems on course for a happy resolution, until Bonaparte reveals a secret from his past that threatens to derail everyone’s hopes. The resolution requires change from each character which they struggle to enact, which leads to a -literally- shattering finale.
This is a smart and empathetic psychological work, exposing the negative effects of loneliness and how one must be open to external forces to assist change; also, that change in itself is not easy and takes courage and a willingness to shift one’s own attitudes. In this, it works brilliantly. The King and Princess are governed by rules and are fearful of anything outside this. There are moments which are biting in their attack. As the maid says, “you tell us you know what God thinks…until it’s inconvenient”. As the King reveals his fear of shattering the rules which have held him back, Bonaparte replies “Let it shatter…. then pick up the pieces and be something new. Go forward.”
The cast all give committed performances, from Timothy Walker as the King, whose uncertain acting/rehearsing of his own part is often a delight, to the earthy maid Galstina (Suzan Sylvester) with a mind of her own. Lawrence Ubong Williams invests Lucien with a vital life force and an enquiring mind. Most of all, the Princess, played by Grace Molony, giving a shimmering performance of earnest obsession, coupled with a delicate grace and beauty, bringing the Princess fully to life.
Lustrously lit against a piano-gloss black set, the sensuous lighting design (set and lighting by Declan Randall) works splendidly in concert with the theatre’s own Louis XVI styled architecture and the period costuming, lending the play a genuine grandeur, giving each scene a painterly look which delights the eye. Alix Sobler’s script is amusing, intriguing and polished, and fully realised in Max Key’s acute production.
The piano interludes by Elizabeth Rossiter are beautifully played with music with a modern-informed classical edge by Gabriel Prokofiev. Particularly amusing is the use of tinkly scales to accompany the Princess’s attempts at walking with a piano inside her, each step accompanied by a note or two, underlining the “piano inside me” premise.
To me, it succeeds as a rallying call to reject living in fear and to embrace connection, change and progress. As such, it is a particularly valuable play at this unhinged moment in the world.
THE GLASS PIANO plays at the Coronet Theatre until 25 May. Information and tickets here