Five Finger Exercise


A psychological drama which has recently gained for its young author, Cambridge University graduate Peter Shaffer, the critics' prize for the best foreign play on Broadway this year, and which was voted the best play in London in 1958, Five Finger Exercise is the current offering at Windsor's Theatre Royal.

For his first venture into the live theatre, after three novels and a couple of television plays, Mr. Shaffer has written a well-knit story of family life brought to the verge of disaster on the rocks of intellectual snobbery, and the Theatre Royal presentation comes over with compelling force at the hands of an extremely competent cast, headed by Mary Kerridge and Lockwood West.

The conflict is between, on the one hand, a self-made business man so completely immersed in his own success that he can see no other future for his son, on the verge of a university career and with artistic inclinations, and on the other, the wife, of part-French extraction, an intellectual snob of the most advanced kind. And between them, the sensitive young man, who is used by both as a weapon in the domestic conflict, and the unsophisticated fourteen-year-old daughter, who bouyantly rides the storms.

Alan Howard, Mary Kerridge and Edward Fox

Plunged into the midst of this tense family atmosphere is an earnest young German tutor, struggling to find, somewhere in this troubled situation, the family life of which he has so far been deprived.

The handling by Mary Kerridge of the exacting part of Louise Harrington, patronising wife and assertive mother, was sure, and had just the right degree of emphasis. Here was yet another of those sympathetic and studied performances so familiar by now to Windsor audiences. This performance was well matched by that of Lockwood West, as the stolid, self-made business man - a character that might have emerged from any one of a dozen or more West Riding industrial towns (save for the absence of accent), and a variation on the Yorkshire theme of "where there's muck there's brass."

In the role of Clive, the son, Edward Fox had a full test of acting ability from which he emerged with complete success. He was equally at home as the artistically inclined young student about to enter university but not quite sure where this was going to lead him, and the central figure torn by the stresses of domestic disharmony. The play was a severe test for Jennifer Counsell, playing her first important straight role, but she romped through the action with an air of complete assurance. There was competent work, too, by Alan Howard (son of Arthur Howard), as the German tutor, whose well-meaning efforts to set matters right in the Harrington household lead him deeper and deeper into the domestic morass. In all, a completely satisfying production, competently directed by Joan Riley.

Windsor, Slough and Eton Express, 11.11.60
photograph supplied by M.H.

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