Wednesday, 28 October 2009

I Found My Horn - Chichester Festival Theatre

I Found My Horn
Writer: Jonathan Guy Lewis and Jasper Rees
Director: Harry Burton
Reviewer: Ann Bawtree

Soon to be at the Hampstead Theatre, Swiss Cottage (November 10-28) this play based on a Radio 4 “Book of the Week” garnered a full house with queues for returns at Chichester’s Minerva Theatre. The audience was expecting a hilarious one-man show and they were not disappointed. However, they got much more.

“I Found my Horn”, a quote from Flanders and Swan, is also a serious play about a man’s rise from the ashes of a broken marriage to a new flamboyant self-confidence. It is a true theatrical combination of tragedy and comedy.

Jonathan Guy Lewis plays not only the author, Jasper Rees, but also all the people he meets in his quest to play Mozart’s 3rd Horn Concerto in front of the annual gathering of the British Horn Society. This ambitious project is at least tempered by all the members of the society understanding that the French horn, that well-known bad boy of the musical instrument awkward squad, is, to quote Flanders and Swann again, “a bit of a devil to play”.

Beside Jasper himself we are introduced to his geeky school orchestra conductor, to himself as a teenager and his orchestral neighbour the nerdy 1st Horn, his first mentor Dave Lee, the three coaches at the American Horn Camp, his own sons and Mozart in his boisterous relationship with the Viennese cheesemonger for whom the concerto was written (in exchange for cheese?). In Jonathan Guy Lewis we have an actor not only capable of switching seamlessly between all these but who can play the horn well enough to perform the concerto and also well enough to play badly. No mean feat, as was recognised by the cheers and tumultuous applause of the grand finale.

Directed by Harry Burton the evening whisks us through the twelve months from one annual meeting of the British Horn Society to the next. We are taken from lonely practice times to the conviviality of the company of fellow students to the terrifying podium of the solo artist.

The lighting design of Jeremy Coney is slick and subtle and the sound, designed by Daniel Thomason, plays a huge part in the production. The snatches of carefully selected horn music which punctuate the evening are listed in the programme notes for the enthusiast to check off but none is so evocative as that orchestral tuning up which gives all soloists the jitters.

The set is simple and ideally suited to the round. A music stand and stool, a step ladder for the loft where the old horn is found, a rail of clothes for quick changes, a battered suitcase to denote travel, a table with a few props and a very necessary bottle of water.

High above, a collection of horns of varying ages makes us look upwards and this is the theme of this inspirational play. Do not be afraid to try the seemingly impossible. It is never too late to start again. While there is life there is hope. Take that plunge!

Runs until Sat 31st Oct
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