The Glass Piano
Print Room at the Coronet
Reviewed – 30th April 2019
“A uniquely atmospheric production; whimsical yet real, dark yet high-spirited, ‘piano’ and ‘forte’ together”
The phrase that comes to mind after witnessing “The Glass Piano” is that truth is stranger than fiction. Based on the real-life story of Princess Alexandra of Bavaria, Alix Sobler’s new play leads us through the corridors and chambers of her nineteenth century palace, and into the hearts of the characters trapped within its walls. The centrepiece is Alexandra herself who suffers from the delusion that as a child she had swallowed a grand piano made of glass, which remains inside her. Known as ‘the glass delusion’, this psychological malady was quite common amongst royals and nobles of the time, before dying out at the end of the century.
Sobler writes with a skilled hand, lacing the text with her dry humour yet still maintaining the element of fairy-tale. Beautifully crafted it touches on the absurd; occasionally jarring but always enchanting – like a piece of music that breaks the rules of harmony with unexpected notes. Conversely, the four characters of the play are very much bound by their laws, trapped by their situations and prevented from fulfilling their dreams – of love. Princess Alexandra, who thinks her life will never change, lives in the palace with her father, King Ludwig, a failed poet, and her maid, the wise Galstina. But when Lucien arrives, initially to assist the King with his writing, anything becomes possible as he challenges the status quo.
Grace Molony is quite magnificent as the princess who tiptoes sideways through doorways, terrified that the slightest disturbance would shatter the piano inside her. Combining an inner strength with the fragility of her condition, she is constantly watchable throughout, and ultimately heart-breaking when she finally finds her own way to be free. Timothy Walker’s formidable Ludwig only glimpses the love that might be before retreating again into his stubbornness, shattering the delicate dreams of those around him. Along with Suzan Sylvester as the maid who never truly knows her place, and Laurence Ubong Williams’ lovestruck Lucien, the cast of four give spellbinding performances.
However, the second act does, at times, threaten to break the spell; and as it meanders fleetingly off course, we are not entirely sure what is real or imagined. But director Max Key’s atmospheric staging continually rescues us from the inherent difficulties of the script that defies categorisation. The end result is clearly moving and magical. An experience heightened by the presence of concert pianist Elizabeth Rossiter who sits at the grand piano throughout, punctuating the play with Gabriel Prokofiev’s lyrical score. Like the text itself, the fragile underscore verges on dissonance with something beautiful underneath. Rossiter’s fingers move across the keyboard, careful not to shatter the melodies as the individual notes pierce like shards of glass. A more poignant soundtrack could not be hoped for.
A uniquely atmospheric production; whimsical yet real, dark yet high-spirited, ‘piano’ and ‘forte’ together. Small scale but grand, this is the perfect piece of theatre for the Coronet – arguably one of the finest off West End theatres in London – with unarguably the best bar.
Reviewed by Jonathan Evans
Photography by Tristram Kenton
The Glass Piano
Print Room at the Coronet until 25th May
Previously reviewed at this venue: