THE DOUBLE BASS
The Noontide Sun at the Mercury Theatre Colchester
A distant relative of mine [well, Salford] plays double bass for one of the BBC orchestras. He's an enthusiast for his instrument, and plays jazz in his spare time. Very different from Suskind's grumpy musician, though I'm sure he'd enjoy the injokes and the whingeing.Süskind wrote his original one-act monologue Der Kontrabass in 1980, since when it has proved enduringly popular in continental Europe.
Alone in his sound-proof room, this third-desk tutti player introduces us to his instrument. Shiny and curvaceous, it dominates the room, which is otherwise furnished with waffled, angular cardboard furniture. Its owner explains its history, its role in the orchestra, and its repertoire. Something of a joke – fifty concertos, but all by second-rate composers, frustrated bassists. A Mozart trifle. Saint-Saens' Elephant.
His other props are a bottle of white wine, and a remote control, with which he plays us extracts, including Brahms, Wagner and the best known of these obscure concertos, by Carl Ditters von Dittersdorf.
But it soon becomes personal. He bitches about the tymps, holds up the orchestra as an image of society, berates his bass, quotes Goethe on music and bemoans his lot: underpaid, stuck at the back of the stage with no hope of advancement. He gets excited, shouts, apologises.
The most memorable passages see him fantasising, satyr-like, about the unwitting object of his affections, a soprano called Sarah who is a Rhine Maiden on the stage of the opera in whose pit he scrapes a living. He will disrupt the gala, shout her name in the silence. The piece ends with his putting on his tails and leaving for work. We wonder whether his fantasy will bear fruit.
Christopher Hunter is a magnetic performer, holding together a rather rambling narrative, ably suggesting the madness of the orchestral player, and addressing the intimate studio audience directly, making us complicit in his rage and his pathos. His evocation of the Rattle Rheingold gala evening was beautifully realised.
Some striking stage pictures, too. Sitting on the arm of his chair and staring at the instrument, before caressing it as he would his beloved Sarah. And the lighting changes as he throws open the window to let the cacophony of the street flood in, or as he walks unsteadily off to the pit at the end.
It was a pity, and painfully ironic, that his sound-proof room was no match for the Big Band in the Main House upstairs. And for me, and several other members of the audience, a frustration that major traffic problems prevented us from seeing the start of this gripping performance of an important piece of theatre.
This is the first outing for a new company, The Noontide Sun, and it's a worthy revival of a gem of a piece from the 80s. It's slated for a longer run at the New End Theatre, Hampstead from April 6 to April 24.