Holst: The Music in the Spheres Review

Jack Studio Theatre – until 19 February 2022


Reviewed by Claire Roderick

Part of Arrows & Traps new rep season, The Dyer’s Hand, Holst: The Music in the Spheres is a soulful wonder. Gustav Holst’s life and struggle to write the Planets Suite would make an interesting enough straightforward story, but writer and director Ross McGregor interweaves this masterfully with Holst’s efforts to open his pupil Cecilia Payne’s mind to the importance of art, creating an intricate and inspiring production.

Designer Odin Corie, Jonathan Simpson (lighting) and Douglas Baker (video) have created a deceptively simple set with sheer screens which double up to provide atmospheric separation of characters and as silent movie style title cards clarifying when and where the scene is taking place.

Holst’s domineering father looms large as Holst’s neuritis prevents him from becoming a pianist. His traditionalist opinions belittle Gustav’s early attempts at composition, but Holst is driven by his need to create music. As his history is revealed in flashbacks, Holst’s gentle but persistent teaching allows Cecilia to open up and their mutual respect and relationship is portrayed beautifully by Toby Wynn-Davies and Laurel Marks. The quiet dignity and understatement of their performances is remarkable, portraying their pain and joy effortlessly. Cornelia Baumann, Lucy Ioannou, Edward Spence, Alex Stevens provide expert support in various roles. Lucy Ioannou’s prim headteacher (straight out of a Victoria Wood sketch – she’s that good) turning into a giggling fangirl when she meets the uber-confident Vaughan Williams (Edward Spence) just one highlight.

It wouldn’t be an Arrows & Traps production without some choreographed sequences from movement director Will Pinchin, and they fit perfectly in this story, with figures from Holst’s past moving around him and sapping his confidence as he conducts Mars and breaks down, to the joyful memories evoked as he conducts triumphantly in the final scene. Thoughtful, clever and beautiful – a scintillating return to live theatre from Arrows & Traps