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I Found My Horn (Susan Elkin reviews)

Venue: The White Bear Theatre. 138 Kennington Park Road, London SE11 4DJ

Credits: By Jonathan Guy Lewis and Jasper Rees. Presented by The White Bear Theatre.

I Found My Horn

4 stars

Susan Elkin | 03 Feb 2023 01:08am

Photo by: Max Hamilton-Mackenzie

This is a show which exudes heart. It is also very funny and beautifully observed.

Back in 2008, journalist Jasper Rees wrote a book about how, at a time when his life was troubled, he rediscovered the French Horn he’d played decades before at school but abandoned. Setting himself the challenge of playing the third Mozart concerto to an audience at the end of the year he then took lessons, studied, practised and consulted top horn players worldwide. I read this with fascination at the time because I know from my own experience,  the frustration, wonder and joy which comes from returning to a musical instrument after a long absence.

Jonathan Guy Lewis worked with Rees and his book to develop a one man stage show a few years later and this White Bear Theatre production ably directed by Harry Burton is a welcome revival. The casting, of course, is perfect because Lewis, like Rees, played the horn as a boy, gave it up for a long time but is still a competent player.

The play opens with Lewis as Rees turning out the attic in the house he has had to leave for his wife and son after divorce. Then he finds the horn which delightfully, has a personality and speaks to Jasper in a Czech accent because that’s where it was made. Lewis is very good indeed at morphing into different characters. Along the way, among others, we get the sulky son, Daniel (all troubled grunts and shrugs), an eccentric music teacher at Jasper’s school, a Yorkshire horn player who becomes a mentor, and several differently accented Americans when he attends Horn Camp in New Hampshire. The characterisation is often hilarious but the accuracy of portrayal is sharp edged.

And of course we hear lots of music as Jasper talks to different people and thinks about different aspects of horn playing – frequently tempted to give up completely and permanently. Finally, of course, having heard only derisory wrong notes for over an hour we know that somehow he’s going to crack it and I walked back to the Elephant and Castle happily humming the slow movement of K447.

It isn’t, though, just a play about music and learning to play an instrument. It’s also about human relationships and finding new ways of being happy. The reconciliation at the very end of the play is understated but warmly powerful.


First published by Sardines:

Author information
Susan Elkin Susan Elkin is an education journalist, author and former secondary teacher of English. She was Education and Training Editor at The Stage from 2005 - 2016
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