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TV review: The Incredibly Talented Lucy, and Our Welsh Chapel Dream

10 May 2024

Channel 4

The Incredibly Talented Lucy (Channel 4, Sunday) reported on a gifted pianist: a 13-year-old girl with a complex condition

The Incredibly Talented Lucy (Channel 4, Sunday) reported on a gifted pianist: a 13-year-old girl with a complex condition

“SHE makes you completely rethink how the brain works — and how the heart works, as well.” The subject of The Incredibly Talented Lucy (Channel 4, Sunday) certainly lived up to that claim. Lucy, 13, lives with a rare chromosome 16 duplication, is essentially blind, has very limited speech, and exhibits many of the signs of autism — and yet is a brilliant pianist, seeming only having to hear a piece of music before being able to play it with remarkable vigour and aplomb.

The winner of The Piano in 2023, melting all hearts as the nation’s best railway-concourse performer, here she was seen preparing for a slot in last year’s Coronation Concert. From infancy, Daniel has been her devoted piano teacher, sinking his own career to enable her astonishing talent to flourish: it is part of his deep commitment to children whose mental or physical condition permits them little regular communication or agency. In many instances, their musical ability is far in advance of any other accomplishment.

For Daniel (as for many of us), this is one segment of an urgent political and social issue: restoring hands-on music teaching to all children throughout the country. Four key players told their stories: Daniel; Lucy’s head teacher; Lucy’s mother; and Daniel’s wife. The child’s exceptional ability is, for them all, both an utter delight and a serious challenge, How exactly should their lives revolve around her? What is her best path, as an artist, and for her personal well-being?

Lucy is not wholly reliable, not necessarily playing the scheduled piece, or starting at the beginning — displaying (I suspect) as strongly developed a sense of mischief and fun as the wayward temperament permitted to great artists. At the last minute, for the Coronation Concert, for some undisclosed reason, Daniel was deemed to be a security risk, and his pass was taken away; so Lucy had to play for the King without, for the first time ever, her teacher’s support and encouragement at her elbow. This splendid programme raised a vast range of issues, encouraging serious recalibration of assumptions at many levels.

For those of us struggling to maintain huge listed buildings, Our Welsh Chapel Dream (Channel 4, Sundays) raises more than a wry smile. Keith Brymer Jones, of The Great Pottery Throw Down, and his partner, Marj Hogarth, are leaving Whitstable (yes, this is personal — they’re just a few streets away from us) to set up a far larger space for his pottery and their home, and have taken on a vast former chapel, Capel Salem, in Pwllheli: seemingly rock solid without, virtually derelict within.

Have they any idea of the magnitude of the task? Will boundless enthusiasm and infectious good humour see them through? The Sunday-school complex will house studio, workshop, and accommodation; they’ll run the great galleried chapel as a “community space”. Good luck with that; so far, there’s little acknowledgement that this is a sacred space where generations encountered the living God.

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