IT has always seemed to me that duet piano playing is akin to two threshers flailing the same sward of grassland before an audience, grinning fixedly as their blades meet and mesh and mascerate, with steel colliding and shrieking. Even the rehearsals must be fraught with potential pianissicide as fingers stray across the other pianist's territory just as he is about to tickle out a winsome arpeggio that should sound like an angels harps, but instead, sounds like a delivery of coal through the conservatory roof.

One can always perform a simple manectomy by slamming the piano lid down on the offenders' hands. It is often the case that amputation of the offending organs at the wrist tends to limit a piano players ability to flutter the fingers, along the ivories. On the other hand, so to speak, if you miss and you could easily pianists hands are often remarkably swift - you have sitting beside you an enemy who will not scruple to return the favour, just at the quiet moment, when you are the height of a solo of unbearable beauty; then slam, and all you're good for is to have two table tennis bats strapped to your wrists and to spend the rest of your life directing planes around the deck of an aircraft carrier.

Tick Tack Man

Directing planes around aircraft carriers is not what pianists become pianists for. Not usually anyway. And that's only if you've got an aircraft carrier. We haven't, for example, so John O'Conor's partner in pianos were to do the dirty on him with the lid, John couldn't even get a job directing naval bombers around the deck. Poor fellow couldn't even blow his nose. Have to ask complete strangers to help him out; and as for more personal matters, well, heigh ho, time to move on. Maybe he could get a job on a racecourse as a tick tack man - they don't need fingers, do they? Or maybe Iarnrod Eireann could give him a job as a railway signal.

John is one of four pianists performing in the same programme on Friday night tomorrow at the National Concert Hall, the other three being former winners of the former GPA competition. Now, two's more than company at the keyboards; but four sounds rather like one of those terrible South American eruptions of war, in which every country invades everyone else in sight, and the one which wins is the one which still has a male over the age of 15 left, in fact, all rather exciting.

Except, of course, it isn't, because the RTE Concert Orchestra is lashing out on two pianos. So alas, the four players won't resemble the survivors from the Titanic clinging to a life raft, and simultaneously trying to make music, while trying to dislodge one, two or even three of the competition. Even then, the surviving pianist or pianists at the piano would have to lash out at the dislodged ones, if only to survive; maybe they could manoeuvre the piano away from the poor sap who has been edged off his stool and floundering, and push it out of the concert hall completely.

Folk Songs

As I say, the RTE Concert Orchestra has chosen to spare us this spectacle; instead the four pianists will join forces on two pianos to play Philip Martin's Criss Cross, which incorporates folk songs from the countries from the four participants - John, of course, from aircraft carrierless Ireland, Philippe Cassard from France, Pavel Nersessian of Russia and Davide Franceschetti from Italy, all of whom can take up careers with their respective navies in the event of any misunderstandings on Friday.

The three visiting pianists will also participate in the relative safety of solos - Philippe will play the Mendelssohn piano concerto, Pavel Nersessian will perform Franck's symphonic poem Les Dfinns, and Davide will, if his colleagues have left him his fingers attached to his hands, will he fluttering then around Schumann's Piano Concerto. It is a unique moment, and a unique night in the history of the piano and who knows? in the history of hand amputation, in Ireland. Tickets for this remarkable night are still available.

If you see any of the pianists playing symphonic poems with this forehead, you may guess what happened; and if you see his partner in the duet doing the same, you may calculate fairly that justice of a kind has been done.

Justice being done in fair due is the central theme of Shakespeare's stranger plays, Measure for Measure, which is perhaps unique in his canon for being set in Austria, though not on the ski slopes. How much did Shakespeare actually know about Austria? His characters - Vincentio, Angelo, Claudio, Lucio, Isabella, Francisca - are hardly the quintessence of teutonism; but then neither is Mistress Overdone, the Bawd of Vienna. Not a Habsburg or a Schinkelbruger to be seen.

Bizarre Comedy

Why is Measure for Measure so seldom performed? It is, according to the actress who plays Mistress Overdone, Suzannah de Wrixon, a complex and bizarre comedy with an extremely difficult moral dilemma at its heart. I have not seen it, and the confident references to its dramatis personnae has been made possible by a quick cog in The Irish Times library. But of course, that is the question about all Shakespeare - why is he not performed more often? Some reviewers did not enjoy Macbeth at the Abbey earlier this year; I thought it wonderful.

Measure for Measure is being produced on the fringe of this year's Dublin Theatre Festival by Loose Canon, a company which has only been in existence since January. It opens on October 16th at the City Arts Centre for two weeks. Needless to say, I have not seen it; but if its production has been as vigorous as its publicity machine has been vigorous, it should be well worth seeing. Loose Canon's production of Julius Caesar played to full houses earlier this year.

The days of wandering into good fringe offerings at the Dublin Theatre Festival at the last moment are gone completely, thank heaven. Those who wish to see one of the most curious of all of Shakespeare comedies might be well advised to book now.