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Five Finger Exercise - The Print Room, Notting Hill

The Print Room theatre, in the grand old Coronet on Notting Hill Gate, is one of the few mid-size theatres that I haven't attended, until Saturday. My Husby booked surprise tickets to Peter Shaffer's 1958 play, Five Finger Exercise. The interior is atmospheric faded grandeur; the sort that goes down well with the mixed locals, which cover the entire demographic span. There were a few old Kensington dames with (real, alas) furs and gold earrings - and old chaps wearing thick corduroys or red chinos accessorised with a bit of paisley. And a healthy younger crowd too. We ordered a drink from the bar - a large basement with lots of rugs thrown across the floor, well positioned second-hand books on various surfaces, and the bar itself - a piano with a glass cover. The theatre is a similar layout to the cinema upstairs, except colder, but that wasn't an issue as each straight back wooden chair had a blanket, ready to be snuggled around one's shoulders, or across the lap. It felt like we were in WW2, but instead of going directly down into the air raid shelter, had instead snook off to the theatre. The play was somewhat later - 1958, I presume - the year in which Shaffer had penned it. It tells of the Harrington family; the sensitive son, Clive, biding time until going 'up' to Cambridge to read poetry or something (I kept thinking of F.R. Leavis!) And the energetic young daughter, Pam. The father was in 'trade', and had risen from nothing to owning his own furniture factory, which produced items that his wife and son looked down upon. Then there's Walter, a young blonde German appointed from London to tutor Pam in French. He won't teach German; he hates the 'fatherland' and it emerges his father had - and still was - a proud Nazi. And not just one of the troops either, but one who had gassed Jews to death in Auschwitz. Walter is the outsider to the drama, who desperately wishes to belong to this respectable English family. He wants to be English, noble, and victorious. But instead the rest of the family project their own issues on him. The result is tragic, giving us a drama that is well paced and increasingly compelling. The only gripes would be the daughter and the mother; the former, as though keen to demonstrate the era, keeps on saying 'oh fooey!' It was so irritating. And the mother, wearing typical 1950's cotton dresses, distracted from her lines somewhat by walking with her bum too far behind her, and her breasts, which I'm guessing are aided by silicon, far ahead of her. It reminded me of a pigeon.

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-Dedicated with love and respect to Dr Bruce Lloyd-


And in memory of my parents:
Thomas Valentine and Joan Theresa
Good people who taught me so much more than they realised

***


The biggest thank-you is due to Norma Clarke, Professor of English Literature and Creative Writing at Kingston University, who supervised this PhD. I never had cause to doubt my initial instincts as Norma proved to be the best mentor I could ever have wished for.

I would also like to acknowledge the generous studentship that I was fortunate to be awarded by Kingston Universi…