Bravura Recital [by Amanda Leo]
As a child, my parents very occasionally took me to the circus as a type of rare treat, which has resulted in much anticipation when going to watch any type of circus act in my adult life. My anticipation of a night full of magic wasn’t disappointed as I arrived at the foyer of the Hearld Theatre for the opening night of The Pianist, created and performed by Taranakian Thomas Monckton with the international contemporary Finnish circus group Circo Aereo. Greeted by Arjuna De Simas-Oakes’ beautiful jazz piano accompaniment, we are put right in the mood for an evening of fun and beautiful music.
We are greeted by a hanging chandelier and a beautiful grand piano, both which reek of possibilities for mishap. In The Pianist the humour arises from the disjunction between what the pianist is attempting to perform and what is actually being performed. Monckton has chosen an ingenious setting for such a parody of performance: a sort of classical piano recital with traditionally “highbrow” standards that the pianist attempts to follow. His failed attempts to constantly enforce and follow these traditions renders the humour very effective when he encounters common problems that performers face, such as a misplaced follows spot or a hidden gap in the curtains.
Monckton’s abilities as a physical circus performer and clown complement this piece beautifully while his childlike demeanour makes for a very endearing performance. This characterisation allows for the incorporation of pantomime, and we led, through the use of music and sound, into the pianist’s imagination, as he plays with inspiration through a childlike affectation of body puppetry.
The show is also cleverly incorporates the technical elements of theatre as a further source of humour. At one point, the pianist engages with a paper fight with the lighting operator for a misplaced spotlight, climbing over the steep seats of the Herald Theatre’s audience. Here lies the genius of Monckton and co-director Sanna Silvennoinen- the audience is smoothly and quite naturally incorporated into these exchanges, often getting involved in the throwing of a flurry of paper; an exchange which is fostered by the performer’s wonderful rapport with the audience.
The design of the piece is absolutely stunning, with Iain Cooper and Phil Halasz’s (de)construction of the central grand piano for it’s musical and structural function being quite remarkable. The light, sound, set and prop designs are impressively instrumental in our overall experience of the surreal world of the circus. Our last image of the pianist shroud in a blue light, with mist pouring out of the grand piano as Monckton plays a ghostly, ethreal tune, really rounds off the magical experience of entering a world of mishap and mystery.
The Pianist is presented by Auckland Live, Show Pony and Circo Aereo and plays at The Herald until 18 April. Details see Auckland Live.