Review by Sarah Higgins
Theatre always has a little magic in it—the lights, the shared space, the worlds created onstage. But Thomas Monckton and Circo Aereo’s The Pianist, playing at The Cultch, is particularly enchanting. Our hero, the eponymous pianist, is on a simple journey to his grand piano to start a concert…or so it seems. Monckton’s pianist is part magician, part puppeteer, part clown, part circus performer, part musician and part dancer, and each of these skills comes into vibrant play as his simple journey gets longer, funnier and more complicated with each passing minute.
The pianist is a beautifully physical character. At times, Monckton moves with the popping isolation of a hip hop dancer. He smoothly manipulates objects in a dance with his sheet music. And he uses the crystal chandelier as a trapeze—which builds to a beautiful moment in which he finally succeeds in moving the grand piano across the stage.
Monckton also involves the audience in his comedy. At one point, he climbs up an audience member to access the stage. Although delightful, this moment raised questions about safety since it involves elements of acrobatics that should require training. Still, overall Monckton effectively drew the audience into the story.
The pianist isn’t alone onstage either. Juho Rahajarvi’s lighting and Tuomas Norvio’s sound are simple and essential. Monckton physically interacts with the cues, and those calling them, so whole-heartedly that the audience comes to know Technical Director Ian Dixon-Wilson and Stage Manager Anna Hunscott as characters in their own right.
The puppets are also simply and effectively done. Monckton uses his body to tell delightful, tangential stories. His knees, under a cloth on top of the piano, become rivals that fight each other. His hands, spotlit on a stool, become lovers who take us from first kiss to last breath. His appendages live full lives onstage—as does the grand piano itself.
At one point Monckton disappears into his grand. Later, in a strong piece of clowning, he mimes a whole other piano that he ends up playing before it becomes a cello…and then a laptop. And the actual piano is where a particularly charming magic occurs. While he plays, its sound changes. Then it fills with smoke, and flowers, and birdsong, and then Monckton plays us out in a moment of pure theatre: one man, one piano, a held note and a fading light.
The Pianist plays at The Cultch’s York Theatre through Nov 6.
Sarah Higgins is into her second year of her Creative Writing Masters of Fine Arts at UBC. She’s foremost a playwright, and has had work produced at both edges of the country—from Little Mountain Lion Productions in Vancouver to a recent show in the Halifax Fringe festival.