Giggles from littlies and laughter and hand clapping from adults are what greet a strongly visual and athletic mime artist – the pianist – whose specialty is piano playing … although in his hour-long show he hardly tickles the ivories. Instead, he is intent on making a grand entrance, positioning himself and his sheet music and generally creating mischief and mayhem, sometimes at the audience’s expense. Of course, all is in very good fun and it is exhausting just watching him, let alone what it must be like to perform his acrobatic stunts night after night.
This is physical theatre at its best, showcased in, under and around the baby grand by New Zealander Thomas Monckton, who has collaborated with Finnish circus troupe Circo Aereo. Thomas grew up with four older brothers and an irrational desire to be a clown. He learnt to juggle when he was eight and rode a unicycle, before running away at age 17 to join a circus school. It was at CircoArts that he trained in acrobatics, juggling, clowning and aerial straps, graduating in 2004. Now he performs internationally, in North America, the UK and Europe, with an upcoming tour of Asia to come.
His entrée to the Fairfax Studio at the Victorian Arts Centre is not without its problems as he has a major battle with the black curtain and literally has to burrow his way onto stage. Donning tails, as is befitting of a concert pianist, he is well and truly frazzled by the time he does finally make a full appearance several minutes later. But if he thinks the worst is behind him, he quickly does a double take, even with a dust covered piano and piano seat in front of him. Everything from an errant piano leg and other non-cooperative components of the piano itself to the height of a makeshift piano stool and a recalcitrant chandelier stand in his way. Never mind the sheet music being thoroughly out of whack.
The Pianist is seriously unhinged entertainment, in which Monckton throws more than a few hissy fits, castigating a member of the crew and giving curry to the assembled masses.
What’s not to love! Mr Bean, eat your heart out. But you better get in quickly because it is only on until 17th January.
David Edwards is the editor of The Blurb and a contributor on film and television