Reviews OWE & Fringe Published 17 November 2014

The Piano Man

New Diorama Theatre ⋄ 11th-15th November 2014

Shipwrecked memories.

Laura Seymour

The brain seems to be the prop of choice in theatre at the moment. Always a rich source of metaphor, it becomes in The Piano Man a mess of tangled wires, a dark room where cells fizz into action to illuminate (and recreate) the past, an image safely framed in academic Powerpoint, and an utter mystery. The Piano Man’s shipwrecked memories are kept, salvaged, nurtured, and altered by the medical staff caring for him, the journalist (Chris Matragos) on the scent of his story. A picture records a moment in time. Black paint obscures another canvas, an unwanted memory. Lights snap on and short-circuit. A drawing of a piano is an old memory or a whole new obsession.

Some days after he washed up on a beach in Kent  in a brine-soaked suit with no labels, unable to speak, memory wiped by white horses, Andreas (Daniel Hallissey) smirks on cue and smoothes his attire, mimicking the news story in which a journalist ‘exposes’ him as a sham. The same wry, sulky, captivating love of attention is seen when he screws up paper and
storms about, a satisfyingly temperamental artist, in front of the nurse (Ami Stidolph), who would love him to be a musical virtuoso. Most poignantly, it is manipulated by the artist Thomas (David Holmes) who uses Andreas for some casual seduction-plus-life modelling, playing games with Andreas’ heart.

As Andreas resists and responds to the roles set for him by others, we too begin to wonder who the real Piano Man is – something symptomatic of the play’s construction from a tissue of sometimes conflicting news stories (the company chose not to disturb the real Andreas by contacting him prior to the production). Pink News reported that the Piano Man was a victim of a devastating love affairAllthePigs makes this narrative their centre-piece. Andreas is left devastated by the realisation that his disingenuous lover has just been playing him, drumming up genuine love on Andreas’ part only to discard him when he has got what he wanted. Andreas’ attempts to reconcile with Thomas, clearly one of the most significant loves of his life, are met with coldness. Andreas, it is implied, attempts suicide, or at least ceases to care for his wellbeing to the extent that he finds himself at the waves’ mercy.

No smell-feast at the rightfully-private banquet of tragic news, this production is a delicate portrayal of a mentally-troubled character. The scene in which Andreas, despairing, takes to the sea is created through a dance involving the whole cast – swells and ripples of chests and arms, extending the turmoil of near-drowning to figuratively encompass the destructive and supportive human influences in his life. Thomas emerges as a malevolent force, dunking Andreas under. Andreas’ nurse and doctor (Sarah Bradnum) bear him up, refusing to let him die. Often silent (The Piano Man famously refused to speak, communicating only through drawing pianos and playing a keyboard), Hallissey’s performance is remarkably pneumatic. As he huffs in annoyance or sighs in unrequited love, he brings us to an awareness of his breath, the physical threat of suffocating water blurs into the threat to life and mental health, as well as the promise of new life, posed by everyone around him.


Laura Seymour

Laura Seymour is writing a PhD thesis on cognitive theory and Shakespeare in performance. Her poems have appeared in several journals such as 'Iota', 'Envoi', 'Ambit', and 'Magma'. Her book 'The Shark Cage' won the 2013 Cinnamon Press debut collection prize and is forthcoming in 2015.

The Piano Man Show Info

Produced by AllthePigs

Directed by Sam Carrack

Cast includes Sarah Bradnum, Daniel Hallissey, David Holmes, Chris Matragos, Ami Stidolph




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