Joanna by Neil Brand

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Joanna by Neil Brand (2002). Dir. Peter Kavanagh. Perf. Haydn Gwynne, Sara Crowe, Nicholas Boulton. BBC Radio 4 Extra, 14 Mar. 2015. BBCiPlayer to 13 Apr. 2015

If they could talk, instruments or furniture in the corner of the room would have a wealth of stories to tell. In my parental home, an upright piano occupied pride of place in the living-room for as long as I can remember; my mother used to play it in moments of stress, but in its latter years it was simply used as a miscellaneous storage-unit for magazines and other paraphernalia.

Neil Brand's play tells the hundred-year story of a piano, labeled Joanna (Haydn Gwynne) who begins her life being tweaked and shoved about, and subsequently falls into the hands of a spoilt girl (Sara Crowe) and her rich father. The girl learns to play the piano with the help of an over-amorous teacher, who eventually makes love to her on the piano, but meets an unexpectedly sticky end. The piano is then sold on to a silent cinema, where she is played by a woman (Dillie Keane) who spends her time cursing and swearing while she provides the soundtrack. The piano is still in use during the Blitz, where she is played for a record ten-hour stretch while the German bombers attack London overhead. Eventually Joanna falls into disrepair, and is slated for destruction, but nonetheless she yields up one more secret, evoking the past for present-day citizens.

Some of Neil Brand's play descends into broad farce, especially in the sequences involving the randy piano teacher and his pupil; but the action retains its charm, not least because of how it shows the power of music to transcend day-to-day affairs and allow the player into a spiritual world, one where perfection reigns. The pupil achieves this state at least once in her life; likewise the silent film pianist, on the night her boyfriend George passes away due to influenza.

All the music, played in various styles, is played by Brand himself, demonstrating once and for all its power to improve and enrich people's lives, if only temporarily.