I wasn’t too familiar with Clara Schumann before this show, the German pianist, composer and piano teacher was an established pianist of her time. Her husband, Robert Schumann, was also a pianist and composer – the two were definitely talented, to say the least. Clara: Sex, Love and Classical Music establishes the life of Clara Schumann, one that reframes the narrative of her as the wife of Robert Schumann but as an excellent pianist with her own slightly Fleabag-tinged narrative.
Clara (played by Elena Mazzon) interacts with the audience regularly, addressing her spectators in the circular seating of the Pianodrome. She asks questions like “What do you do on a date?” which felt quite humorous considering the considerable age gap. What this sex-positive show unveils is that Clara Schumann’s life is not as detached from our understanding of womanhood in the 21st century. Clara is trying to balance motherhood without entirely sacrificing her love for music.
Clara clearly led a fascinating life, and this show it traces her journey from family, and relationships to finding her sound as a pianist. In the show, she admits relief at her miscarriage as a welcome break from the “factory” of child-making and unveils some details of her musical love triangle with Johannes Brahms. Combining monologue and piano playing, this show is incredibly intimate. However, the peaks of the show were often when Clara played the piano – where the unsaid was felt, where her emotions and frustrations crossed over barriers and were told by music. These moments weren’t that frequent, and when they did occur (despite the out-of-tune piano) they were spots of magic. They were real pieces that added to the storytelling significantly.
The dialogue felt a bit clunky at times. Clara would often explain the significance of each character in the context of their historical relevance as well as her personal stakes – but sometimes, it feels a bit detached. Also, the characterisation of different characters felt confusing, it was tricky to navigate the increasing amount of characters and distinguish them from Clara. Ultimately, this led to the story becoming difficult to navigate through. For a one-person show, it is essential to keep audiences engaged, and unfortunately, the thread of the narrative in this show is not cohesive and consistent throughout.
This is an intriguing play with a very interesting subject matter, I can see what it was intended to achieve – however, the delivery felt a little lacklustre and muddled at times.