reviewed by Neville Cohn
Few doors open on a single hinge so it is certainly an oversimplification to suggest, as many do, that the sole reason for Canadian pianist Glenn Gould’s decision to stop performing in public was his increasing conviction that many of those who attended his recitals were there primarily to look at him rather than to listen to him. There’s a fair case for suggesting a similar motive on the part of many who attend recitals given by pianist David Helfgott (whose life was portrayed in the movie Shine).
The great virtue of David Young’s play Glenn is that it doesn’t focus exclusively on this hangup but comprehensively canvases the full range of Gould’s neuroses and oddities (his hypochondria, his horror of being touched by anyone are two of many ) of which his withdrawal from the concert platform was only one.
But was turning his back on the recital hall such a silly move? Was this merely childish or eccentric petulance? Or was it a carefully thought out career move to enable him to function more effectively as a pianist.
The evidence for this is compelling: one has only to listen to his probing, superbly insightful recordings of Bach (as well as Schoenberg).
Young’s Glenn calls for Gould to be played not by one actor but by four, a risky experiment that, in this case, comes off convincingly. Certainly, it brings home how multifaceted a personality Gould was.
James Sollis as Gould the puritan, Andrew Hale in Gould’s incarnation as a perfectionist, Roderick Cairns characterising Gould as theperformer and Glenn Hall as Gould the youthful prodigy give a virtuoso, high-energy display of verbal co-ordination. As well, the four are required to give a host of cameo performances – and here, too, versatile to a man, they come up trumps.
As ever, Raymond Omodei’s directorial touch is everywhere apparent, most significantly in the pacing and pausing of dialogue. There are torrents of lines here and in less than skilled directorial hands, the entire presentation could collapse under the weight of thousands of often rapidly articulated words.
It seemed a miscalculation, though, to have recordings of Gould playing Bach in the background as the play unfolded. True, decibel levels were low but, as always, Gould’s interpretative genius and infallible finges were so irresistible an aural attraction that, at times, they made one feel that the actors’ lines were an irritating intrusion, surely not the intention of the author.
Perhaps the production might have been better served by taking out the piano backing altogether and playing it at as an overture cum introduction to the play as well as during the interval when it could be savoured in its own right without getting in the way of the action.