This thoughtful, awe-filled two-hander presents an unexpected mix of themes: partly an homage to greatness, partly a philosophical musing, and partly an extended classical music review.
The story revolves around Alan, who plays second violin in a celebrated orchestra – an enviable role, but not a prestigious one. Music is his life; it’s also his job, though he laments the banality of the “Classic FM Top 100” he’s forever cursed to play. To him, there’s just one truly great composer, the titular Johann Sebastian Bach. And above all he reveres the Mass in B Minor, Bach’s most sublime composition, in which (Alan tells us) every note matters, every musician matters, and every theme converges in eternal perfection.
I’m a Top 100 man myself, so I’ve no idea whether that’s a consensus view. But Alan believes it earnestly, with every fibre of his heart – enough to equate Bach with God, and his music with the reverie brought by Christ. Chris Brannick’s script seems rooted in genuine faith: not necessarily religious conviction, but a sense that there is something that transcends us, that we are each a tiny part of a greater and more meaningful whole. There’s true beauty in those ideas, and in the lyrical language Alan finds to describe them.
There’s also a masterful twist to the story, which I’m kicking myself for not having spotted coming all along. But for me, the point grew a little laboured; not once but twice I thought we’d witnessed the finale, only to find that the play carried on. Alan’s story touches other vital themes – not least whether it’s wise to define your inner identity around one specific skill – and I’d have liked to see a little more time given over to an exploring them.
Brannick is convincing as the restless, troubled Alan. Later, when the narrative grows more abstract and surreal, he successfully carries us over that divide. He’s joined on stage by Karen Kirkup, who plays a variety of roles: a sharply-observed arts administrator, a gloriously dissolute mentor, and most crucially Maggie, the cynical journeywoman whose pragmatism is the counterpoint to Alan’s romance.
This is a short play, but one that thinks big thoughts and explores big ideas. It explains, in a way anyone can understand, the transcendental glory of the perfect musical score – and how in the face of human frailties, any musician must fall forever short of that ideal. It touches on our position in the universe and the meaning we bring to our lives. It’s a unique, passionate and thought-provoking production – the sort of show that should always have a home at the Fringe.