Cut to York Theatre, interior. Night. The theatre is full. Light pours from the stage. A magician is conjuring flowers in a grand piano, and then swinging from a chandelier.
This is either some incredibly elaborate children’s birthday party entertainment, or it’s the latest show from New Zealander Thomas Monckton, who brings his acting, performing, and puppeteering skills to The Cultch. He is an acrobatic, bendy, clownish human slinky of a man, whose height does not hinder his gymnastic abilities.
The Pianist: A Concert Catastrophe is a unique performance of physical theatre combined with a farcical comedy of errors that results in a mesmerising tale of one man’s journey to, at base, play the piano. Through mime and a Charlie-Chaplin-meets-Houdini set of fantastical flourishes and stunts, the old adage that 90 percent of communication is non-verbal has never rung truer. His movements were predictable but this does nothing to detract from the squeamishness of the audience members. Engagement levels were high throughout, and I was constantly asking silent questions of him: ‘How did you do that? What fabric is that? Is he really going to sit on that piano leg? Just how tall is he?’
He toys with his audience, capering and cavorting around the stage and using the piano as a prop rather than an instrument. This is largely where the show’s failure to hit home arises—expectations abound for the actual piano playing but when it comes, it is synthesized, and unfortunately underwhelming. It certainly lacks the payoff that seems to have been building all show.
It is impossible to box in and categorize this show, but that's rather appropriate for its contortionist star who also cannot be pinned down, by gravity, or a single genre. This is part of its charm and strength; at times hypnotic and surreal, others brash and exaggerated. Monckton is very versatile; he can stretch himself over all forms of movement, from break dancing to holding the viewers in his hand with finger puppets.
I issue a warning for those wearing contact lenses or possessing a fear of audience participation - do not sit in the front row. Avoid the dry ice and interaction. Sit at the back and watch the chaos unfold.
The Pianist promises a fun night for all the family to enjoy. The York Theatre is a great venue and its not as if Monckton doesn't use the stage, rigging, main floor chairs… but with its fringe feel, this is 55 minutes of entertainment that would suits smaller, more intimate space. Hopefully the show will tour such places and take more audiences along for the ride.