Independent Theatre
Goodwood Institute Theatre
Until 04 Aug 2018

Review by Janice Bailey

The backdrop of this powerful play is Vienna, 1986 and Kurt Waldheim has just been elected President of Austria. The opening scene reveals a rehearsal studio. The set has been perfectly crafted by Rob Croser and David Roach with Bob Weatherley’s lighting design creating mood. Author Joe Marans, who wrote the play at 21, has spent four weeks working with the cast throughout the rehearsal process.

Marans has created a relatable story which, while seemingly straightforward, repeatedly takes us by surprise. He is a superior wordsmith – the more so because, at times of high tension, he uses words sparingly. So much is conveyed through the music. The haunting music of Schumann’s “Dichterliebe” is beautifully played offstage by Musical Director, Mark Sandon, providing far more clarity and depth than a soundtrack.

Ben Francis gives a compelling performance as the angry young man, Stephen Hoffman, who has come to Vienna to overcome the musical equivalent of a writer’s block. Once an acclaimed piano prodigy, at 25 he has lost his passion and has travelled to Vienna to work with renowned piano teacher, Professor Schiller. To his annoyance and disgust he is assigned to piano teacher, Professor Josef Mashkan, who insists he learn “Dichterliebe”. Francis portrays the angry young man with assurance and the necessary angst, and is able to transition through the changes his character undergoes with believability.

David Roach reprises the role of Professor Josef Mashkan, completely inhabiting the character. His performance is simply superb.

This is a first-class production of a wonderfully crafted play which has universal relevance, regardless of the setting and context. The play embodies the true beauty of words combined with the power of music and the audience emerges enriched by the experience.