Maestro | State Theatre Company of South AustraliaLeft - Luke Clayson. Cover - Luke Clayson & Dennis Olsen. Photos - Shane Reid.

Maestro a*es"tro\, n. • noun (pl. maestri /mistri/ or maestros) 1: a distinguished male conductor or performer of classical music. 2: a distinguished man in any sphere. - ORIGIN Italian, ‘master’.

Maestro is a masterful novel by Adelaide doctor and novelist Peter Goldsworthy, and has been adapted by its author and his daughter as an equally masterful play. It deals with a piano student in Darwin who begins to take lessons from the mysterious and shadowy Eduard Keller who it transpires learnt from the teacher of Liszt himself, (who in turn learnt from Beethoven.) Whether or not this pedigree is relevant in the pursuit of perfection is one of the many issues raised as the play unfolds. It is also an exposition of love, betrayal, loyalty and self absorption.

The masterful Dennis Olsen as Eduard Keller shines in this performance, out-glimmering all others on the stage and living up to the magisterial appellation of the title role. He consistently and convincingly portrays the enigmatic and inscrutable Austrian with a veiled past. He is followed by Luke Clayson as the Maestro’s student Paul Crabbe - at first arrogant teenager, then bully-battered conformist, then self-questioning professional, but always devoted to music and finally to the man who taught him all he knew. He equally manages being a 16 year old as well as a more mature aged loser of international piano competitions.

Apart from Michaela Cantwell, who carries off the dumb blonde role of Betty the mother of Paul’s paramour, with some stylised humour, the women are cast in rather plastic and unappealing roles that do not give them any opportunity to shine. This is probably the only shortcoming of the otherwise excellent re-working of the novel into the play.

The set by Mary Moore keeps the piano centre stage, emphasising the music which can only be imagined in the novel, but which in this presentation is central. The creative and quite complex use of a set of revolves to change scene around the piano is used to very good effect. A serious distraction was the wafting in the breeze of one of the borders in front of the projection of the backdrop, so that a large shadow descended to black out almost half of it at times. Apart from this the projection of a Darwin-esque tropical scene and  a formal European court yard served to set the scene well.

Direction by Martin Laud Gray brings this novel to the stage with a depth of understanding of the social structure of post-war Darwin and of relationships that does him proud. He and the cast and the crew along with the authors, can collectively take a bow.

State Theatre Company of South Australia presents
by Anna Goldsworthy & Peter Goldsworthy

Venue: Her Majesty’s Theatre
Dates: 27 February – 11 March 2009

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