dir. George Murnaghan Gordon
There’s something to be said for the power of music. Music can be many things: a form of expression, a hobby or a career. In ‘The Practice Room’, it’s all of these things. It’s also distinctly absent. While this a brave stylistic choice for director and writer George Murnaghan Gordon’s production, it doesn’t work.
The story is told in both the past and present: Sarah (Hannah Rodgers) returns to her old school and reminisces about her time there and the relationship she had with her teacher John (Tom Williams). The teacher is confronting his own personal issues in attempting to help his old friend Charles (played by Gordon in the performance I saw, due to the original actor being unavailable) write the biography of their old teacher. The plot unfolds with the student’s promising future bringing her into conflict with her teacher over the ghosts of his past. The notable lack of music attempts to drive home its importance, but seems more like a missed opportunity to have used evocative and emotional pieces to underpin the themes of history and ambition explored in the story. Which is not to say that these themes were not ably explored in the performances of the actors themselves.
Rodgers is very sympathetic as the talented yet introverted student and Williams delivers a strong performance as a teacher who wants the best for his student but is seeking redemption for his past mistakes. Hannah Raymond-Cox brings welcome levity to the serious nature of the play as the school singing teacher, with her spot-on elderly mannerisms and kindly attitude. And praise must be given to Gordon for standing in for one of his actors, giving a competent and integral performance with no script in sight. The characters work, but are missing a sense of depth, which stopped me from truly engaging with them. Unfortunately, the lack of music comes to the fore again when thinking about the set. One is convinced that the events take place in a music room by the amps and music stands present on the stage, but it is immediately noticeable that there is no piano. The absence of the piano is what triggers Sarah to think back on her lessons, but causes a problem in that it highlights the glaring lack of music in the production and makes any moment involving the ‘piano’ seem false. While the idea of ‘a play about music without music’ is certainly an interesting one, it is not successful in this specific instance.
Ultimately, my issue with the play is that it lacks. While nothing is outright bad about any of its elements, it lacks the spark and conviction it obviously needs to reach its full potential. Like a chord missing an important interval, ‘The Practice Room’ is the foundation for a good play that requires that one, all-important note to make it work.