I FOUND MY HORN at the White Bear Theatre
“Burton’s brisk direction of the piece highlights Lewis’ striking performance”
In the course of history there has been much written about the role of music and its importance in our lives. Perhaps it is the greatest creation of mankind. The greatest form of expression. Among its countless attributes, most people discover – at some point or other – music to be a way to escape from the pain of life. Jasper Rees, the protagonist of the one-man, semi-autobiographical “I Found My Horn” would certainly, if reluctantly, agree. We meet Jasper as he climbs into the attic of his former home to sort out and pack up the last few pieces of a broken life. The attic (a superbly and evocatively created design by Alex Marker) is a cave of intimate nostalgia and memories. Divorce has driven him here, with a mid-life crisis for a back seat driver.
That all sounds pretty grim, but it is merely a starting point and, in the hands of Jonathan Guy Lewis as the luckless Jasper, the feelgood factor is off the scale during the ensuing eighty minutes of joyous, warm-hearted-theatre. Written by Lewis, with Jasper Rees, it is based on the latter’s book published in 2008. The pair teamed up with director Harry Burton to create the show which opened in London in 2009. Lewis’s character has grown older since then: the text has been slightly altered to accommodate the advancing years, but the sentiment, the meaning and the comedy are as powerful as ever.
Rather than finding the French horn in his attic, it is as though the horn has summoned Jasper. It speaks to him, begging to be freed from its dusty case and given back its purpose. They can help each other out here. It has been thirty-nine years since Jasper last picked it up and now, as he tentatively holds it in his hands, he regales us with the memories it triggers: and the renewed ambition it stirs up. He attends the British Horn Society’s annual concert and decides to play Mozart’s Horn Concerto No3 at the event the following year. He attends a ‘Horn Camp’ in America which simultaneously crushes and ignites his ambition. Meanwhile we are treated to flashbacks to his school days and humiliating moments in the orchestra. Lewis switches hilariously and seamlessly between all the characters that crowd his past and present, adopting mannerisms and accents that are spot-on. He has an astoundingly natural ability to make them heightened yet recognisable and real. Even the French horn itself is given an endearing personality. And, as Jasper, we instantly relate to the man, and to his dreams and regrets.
It is no spoiler to reveal that Jasper achieves his objective and is given a solo slot at the concert. It is his journey there that captivates us. Burton’s brisk direction of the piece highlights Lewis’ striking performance. We effortlessly perceive the complex layers inherent in the writing that in lesser hands might have been muddied. The horn itself is undoubtedly a metaphor – a kind of “Sparky’s Magic Piano” for grown-ups. Ultimately it is a very moving story, not just of making music, but of facing your demons. But it is best not to over analyse. Just revel in the humour and forget the symbolism. It is a joyous and heart-warming performance.
Reviewed on 2nd February 2023
by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Max Hamilton-Mackenzie
Previously reviewed at this venue: