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The Piano Project
Published on Friday, 13 August 2010

4 stars

The Bongo Club (venue website)
6 - 17 Aug, 4:00pm (5:00pm)
Reviewed by Catherine Meek

This is surely what Fringe theatre is all about: inventive, innovative, energetic and engaging, this thoughtful production succeeds in portraying the media interest surrounding the unusual story of ‘piano man’, as well as lending an imagined perspective to the mysterious character’s life history.   Although I wasn’t following the story at the time it broke in 2005, this play left me in no doubt as to the potential for speculation and intrigue: a person unknown is found on a beach, apparently without speech let alone memory; medical professionals in charge of him are stumped by his silence, as he proves his case doesn’t fit into any neat tick box; they become persuaded that he is a world-class pianist, no less.

No doubt the story is engaging, but what makes this performance is the ingenuity of the production.  With a minimum of carefully-composed props, these young actors bring life to a world in which their antihero’s plight was born.  Impressive was the use of costumes on coathangers to represent both the characters of the protagonist’s childhood and, cleverly, the shadow of the protagonist himself.  Who knows what was on the real piano man’s mind when he sat before his inquisitors?  That his questioner spoke to a suit – literally – emphasised the sheer mystery of the person behind the image.  Particularly noteworthy was the use of live video on set; I haven’t seen this device before and it worked really well.

Who are you?  What is your name?  Where do you come from?  These are all the most basic questions we learn not to even notice as we go about our business in this id-focussed world.  That our unknown person did not answer them reminded me of what we take for granted about ourselves.  I recalled Shakespeare’s line: ‘A rose by any other name would smell as sweet’.  Whatever label piano man attracted (“autistic” being the obvious one), he is nevertheless the product of his own history, one which might or might not have been conjured by his rescuers.  Why was it so stunning that he seemed to play virtuoso piano?  Why exactly was this extraordinary?

Go see this company – their passion and their talent was evident from their deft and skilful teamwork: throughout the hour-long production they worked together to bring a host of props to and from stage.  There might easily have been a mess – especially when ‘grandma’ was drowning in the fish tank.  But instead, they took their performance in their stride and performed with unselfconscious pride.  Highly recommended for both story and production, and as an example of collective creative endeavour.

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These are archived reviews of shows from the Edinburgh Fringe 2010.  We keep our archives online as a courtesy to those we've featured, and for readers who'd like to research previous years' reviews.

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