"In its press handout, 2 Pianos 4 Hands is characterised as "a musical piece about a lifetime’s obsession with 88 piano keys", which makes it sound distinctly unpromising. It was, therefore, a singular pleasure to discover this exuberant gem of a show at the Repertory.
Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt are two delightful and talented Canadian pianists who have had the bright idea of devising a two-man show around the experience of growing up learning the piano. Anyone who has made a similar odyssey will shudder at the memory, will
experience a delicious discomfort, a satisfying schadenfreude that others, too, have suffered.
Everyone else may quite simply relax, luxuriate in the duo’s energy, skill and comic brio as they deal briskly with scales, time-keeping, carrying the hands and arms in the correct playing position, duet playing, competitions, auditions, the tedium of practice, handling parents by turns intransigent, wheedling or interruptive, with the vagaries, idiocies or idiosyncrasies of teachers – a propos of executing arpeggios one observes: "When you make love to a
woman, do you only use one hand?"
The show’s concision and economy is admirable, with individual episodes not a second too long. Jeremy Sams paces the whole expertly, sustaining an unbroken momentum from first note to last. Francis O’Connor’s setting is unfussy yet appealing.
A 38-year-old Dykstra may at one point complain, as he boozes with a collusive Greenblatt, that he will never equal a Horovitz performance, but they have fashioned and honed a jewel of a show which is moving, truthful and funny.
Canadian actor-pianists Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt have demonstrated yet again that the best ideas are often the simplest.
They have devised a quickfire comedy show about that curious obsession with the piano which afflicts certain human beings, performing it themselves in the sole company of two Steinways.
It has proved a big hit across Canada and in New York, and the enthusiastic response to its British premiere last night showed that it has lost nothing in crossing the Atlantic.
A small show to be holding the Rep’s vast stage? Not at all. Francis O’Connor’s simple but elegant setting makes it perfectly at home and in scale.
In an unbroken 90-minute span (the interval has been dropped for Britain and it is surely an improvement) Dykstra and Greenblatt lead us along the agonising path from a beginner’s
first tentative excursions on the keyboard to what most of us (though not the fearsome teachers depicted here) would regard as virtuosity.
They introduce a range of characters – parents, fellow students, teachers – all of whom have their own agendas and strategies in relation to the fragile progress of Ted and Richard. The comedy is seamlessly integrated with the music, most intricately where two rival 11-year-olds literally jockey for position while playing a Mozart duet.
There is a lot of music, including a whirlwind tour of pop and jazz as well as classical, and the culmination is a seven-minute Bach concerto. The show is an acting and performing tour de force, funny and agonising but hugely entertaining – and it does classical music a humanising service in showing us those expressions of panic and alarm usually missing from its public face.
THE TITLE, "2 PIANOS 4 HANDS", is conceived as a metaphor for growing up in which two aspiring pianists work out their relationship with their instruments. But first and foremost, it is 90 minutes of good-natured, classical music-based cabaret. Roving round two grand pianos, Canadians Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt’s tuxedoed, semi-autobiographical show tells of their musical development from age six to 17. Aside from parents forcing them to practise in their early years and later trying to broaden their horizons, it is the teachers who provide most of the colour. They include batty old ladies with migraines, tight-arsed conservatory adjudicators and a supine German émigré for whom ‘it is good for my Bach to B Flat’. But in between magical figures from adolescence, the story is elevated by duets from the music of Mozart, Chopin and Beethoven.
By their own admission, Dykstra and Greenblatt are good but not great pianists, describing themselves as ‘probably the best two musicians in the neighbourhood’. But their two-man show is sustained by droll, often self-deprecating wordplay which sees musical notation described as 'black dots with hemorrhoids’. There is also a disarming warmth to their story as they develop from misfit protégés into disappointed youths, settling for the consolation of Steinways as chick magnets. Jeremy Sams’ direction runs the show at an allegro pace, focusing on eccentric characterization and geek pathos. Both performers are as competent mimicking accents and mannerisms as they are playing crotchets and quavers. There are times when you wish for a little more music and a little less banter, but Dykstra and Greenblatt’s good-natured show remains wholesome family entertainment throughout. Time Out UK

THIS IS THE OFF-BROADWAY HIT that put off Birmingham last year when it proved so successful in New York that it stayed on, forcing the Rep to close its doors for three months.
Now, finally, it’s here. So, was it worth all the fuss? You can stamp on the loud pedal and scream "Yes!"
Judging by the reception, it is a show that could easily have run all way through those three summer months last year. As it is, it is here for just over a fortnight.
It is a musical conversation, albeit a highly entertaining one, rather than a piece of theatre. In that respect it is rather specialist. But it is original and richly entertaining.
It is performed by talented Canadian pianist-humorists Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, who are possessed of golden fingers yet still find an extra finger for fun.
Together they take us through childhood piano lessons, make fun of scales, teachers, even the great composers: virtuosity without pomposity. Evening Mail

PLAYS WITH PIANOS in them are usually painful. I have yet to recover from seeing, in Ipswich, the actor Oliver Ford Davies miming the playing technique of John Ogden in a stage biography of the maestro. The facial bowel strain and manual doggy paddle – pure Eric Morecambe.
But here there is playing for real and the show – directed by Jeremy Sams – is a rare treat. It features two engaging Canadian pianists who devised the show, Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, sitting at interlocking Steinways.
They tell us just what it’s like to try for a career as a soloist. They imitate the childhood hell of endless practice, parental goading and agony lessons. Then there’s the nightmare of exams, the boozy teenage rebellion and, finally, the almost inevitable failure to make the grade. The players’ envious pain at listening to the great Horowitz playing Liszt is just lovely.
It helps that both men are wonderful players, fingers like speeding millipedes, giving a delighted audience snatches of Bach, Mozart and Scott Joplin.
It’s a damn fine night of joy, jokes and some seriously good music without the penguin suits or po-faces. The Express

GENETIC ENGINEERING is going to give an even more complicated twist to the scenarios aired in this delightful show now receiving its British premiere. A recent cartoon displayed a scowling, five-year-old at the keyboard, arms folded, evidently on strike. "And to think what I paid for your genes," snarled the child’s overbearing mother. Charting the trials of youthful piano practising and of specialising in a field where many are called but few are chosen, Two Pianos, Four Hands shows that this activity was already a hefty pain-in-the-wrist before the days of designer babies and the extra guilt and recrimination it will cause.
An Off-Broadway hit, this semi-autobiographical piece is created and performed by two engaging Canadians, Ted Dykstra and Richard Greenblatt, a cross between the Labeque sisters and a more sophisticated version of Reeves & Mortimer. Put either of these actors in a play and you could entirely avoid that awful moment where a character retreats to the other side of the piano and mimes kneeding bread on an instrument that appears to be throwing its voice to the wings. These guys can act and give those ivories a good seeing-to, and then some.
The point, though, is that their intensive adolescent training resulted in the realisation, around the age of 17, that a career as a soloist was not in the cards. From the first faltering lessons through to the boozy rueful retrospection of adulthood, the show traces a would-be prodigy’s progress.
Jeremy Sams stages the piece with a nice wit and a pleasing clarity. Two Steinways in jigsaw-fit stand on a large disk whose black-and-white pattern matches the white tie and tails of the artist. A tall translucent surround allows the performers to go off and create, say, the giant silhouettes of over-demanding parents. In a lovely droll touch that’s like truancy a deux, Dykstra and Greenblatt take it in turns to keep a Mozart sonata going while the other nine-year-old self repeatedly skives off to the haranguin small children to practice, I blushed with recognition at the blackmailing techniques. Their subtext is often : « Just think what I could have achieved, if I’d been as lucky as you and had me as a father. » It’s a no-win situation for both child and parents. As we see here, there will be regrets and recriminations either way, not to mention the Schadenfreude of the eventual teacher (and failed practitioner) who tells you that you’ve misused your talents and aren’t good enough.
Keeping their audience tantalised to the end, Dykstra and Greenblatt finished with some mesmerising Bach and then, as an encore, a rather camp arrangement of « Maple Leaf Rag ». A damn fine way to treat two Steinways. The Independent