A middle-aged man wakes up to a broken marriage, a beckoning bedsit, and the realisation that he has done nothing to make himself memorable. Sound familiar? Yes, exactly. I Found My Horn was originally staged at various venues in 2008 and 2009, and has now been re-imagined and updated for a UK and US tour. Adapted from Jasper Rees’ book of the same name, the stage version chronicles how, after a lay-off of 25 years, Jasper seeks redemption via the sixteen feet of treacherous brass tubing he never mastered in his youth. Resuming his old French horn, he sets himself the seemingly impossible task of performing a Mozart concerto in front of a paying audience of horn enthusiasts at the annual festival of the British Horn Society.
It is, according to director Harry Burton, “a classic myth about the man who has to confront his fear“. Indeed, I Found My Horn clearly strives for a carefully plotted mythical structure that taps into a story of universal appeal. The result, however, is an over-wrought and cliché-ridden script that emphasises cheap laughs over emotional integrity. To this end, the co-writers (Jonathan Guy Lewis and Jasper Rees) seem to be channelling a particular school of British feel-good drama of which Billy Elliot, The Full Monty and Brassed Off are perhaps the most notable examples. As mawkish and predictable as those works may be, they at least possess a degree of stirring euphoria that this production sorely lacks.
The production is further blighted by some of the lowest production values I have seen at this level, marked in particular by a slapdash drawing of a mountain (it’s a metaphor, geddit?) masquerading as a set design, uncomfortably long costume changes and a totally inadequate sound system. Indeed, for a piece about the enchanting vitality of music, to have such a poor sound system is pretty inexcusable. Frankly, it makes some of the most majestic pieces of horn music ever written sound as though they’re being played over a dated tannoy system in a grey-walled public service building. Sadly, even the fabled French horn playing isn’t very good. I mean, sure, it’s passable, but it certainly doesn’t warrant the length of time we’re made to sit through it.
Jonathan Guy Lewis, to his credit, plays Jasper with genuinely charismatic enthusiasm. He does, however, regularly falter when attempting various accents, which include that of his old school conductor, the German soloist Herman Baumann and his estranged teenage son. It doesn’t help that every one of these characters is painted with the broadest of broad brush strokes. As for the talking horn with a Czech accent, well the less said about that the better. Far from being, as the writers put it, “a wonderfully theatrical invention”, it feels more like a woefully amateurish contrivance to add to a catalogue of bum notes.
I admit I’m probably not the target audience for this particular piece – being neither middle-aged or especially interested in classical music. Nevertheless, there is an argument that the theme of a work shouldn’t necessarily dictate one’s overall enjoyment of a production. Needless to say, my enjoyment of this one was few and far between. To be honest, you’re probably better off reading the book.
I Found My Horn is playing at Trafalgar Studios until 3 May. For further information and tickets go to the ATG website. Photo by Gavin Watson.