Originally titled Retreats, the current title, Five Finger Exercise, is a clever and symbolic reference to a piano exercise for pianists. The play has five characters that must “exorcise” their conflicts, and piano music is used throughout to underscore and punctuate dramatically heightened moments. Shaffer has admitted the autobiographical nature of the play, stating in the preface to his collected plays that it “expressed a great deal of my own family tensions and also a desperate need to stop feeling invisible.”
The play focuses on the Harrington family, who are spending a holiday together in their cottage in Suffolk, England. There is a snobbish mother, Louise, who fancies herself a Parisian aristocrat; a working class father, Stanley, who has done quite well for himself and his family in the furniture business; a troubled and sensitive son, Clive, who is just entering college, drinks too much, and is trying to find himself; and a smart-mouthed, feisty, fourteen-year-old daughter, Pamela. The fifth character is a young German music tutor, Walter, employed by the Harringtons to teach Pamela to play piano.
Walter acts as a catalyst for the family in bringing their underlying resentments out into the open for discussion and resolution. Louise resents Stanley for stifling her creative nature, while Stanley dismisses Clive’s yearning for something more fulfilling than making furniture. Pamela thinks her brother is...
(The entire section is 539 words.)