Review- The Pianist- Hong Kong Arts Festival


By: Lizzi Wood-Vashishtha


Let me start by saying this show is absolutely hilarious and must NOT be missed. If you haven’t got a ticket stop reading this (but please come back to it later), go and get yourself one. I know this is back to front but I can’t stress to you how entertaining the show is in any other way than by saying if I could I’d give the show an 8 out of 5. 


I sit in my seat and take in the set up of the stage, very simple; a navy velvet backdrop with a split swag on the left hand side to reveal a dressing table behind. In the darkness you can just about make out the grand piano and a light highlights the sparkling chandelier in front of the curtain. I then start to read the program (which is also a very funny and interesting read) ‘[The Pianist] Impeccable in every aspect he glides graciously through life never placing a foot out of step. He is, in a word: perfection. Or at least…that’s what he thinks.’ I read in the interview with the director and performer, Thomas Monckton, that it’s about ‘the lure of luxury’. As I sat waiting for the show to start I looked around and noticed that half of the auditorium was filled with children, that the comfortable, but certainly not ‘luxe’ bright green seats nor the general surroundings lent themselves to the concept of luxury. I wondered, perhaps if the premise was to draw the audience into an idea of luxury that maybe a different theatre would’ve been better - maybe the grandeur of the Civic Centre? 


As soon as the show started I realised that the surroundings really did not matter, the piece wasn’t supposed to lure the audience into a sense of luxury, it was about the pianist having been lured into a sense of luxury. Everyone’s eyes were glued to Monckton the whole way through. Even when he ran up the stairs to interact with the technician (I won’t say why because I don’t want to spoil the moment, it’s brilliant!) and later returned to the tech desk to fight with the tecchie over a duff lighting cue, the whole audience turned in their seats to watch. I normally write notes throughout the performance if I’m reviewing so I don’t forget things later but I couldn’t bare to take my eyes off him for a second in case I missed any of his a-laugh-a-second mishaps! The children were laughing uproariously and the adults were certainly there with them.


In a nutshell this show is like Mr. Bean playing the piano on a slapstick show at the circus. Crack through the nutshell and you’ll discover a fantastically hilarious show which is like Mr. Bean and Frank Spencer, from the 70’s BBC sitcom ‘Some Mothers Do ‘Ave ‘Em’, met and had a lovechild. Said lovechild was sent away to boarding school where he tragically stumbled his way through, trying to prove to his peers that he was every bit as sophisticated as them. He puts on a piano recital to prove that he too appreciates the finer things in life and that he has grace and flair – of course everything that could go wrong, does go wrong! There were some hilarious references that were maybe intentional or perhaps just my perception but I saw influences from Only Fools and Horses (for those that have seen it, the episode with the chandelier!), Monty Python, a music video akin to Beyonce or Mariah Carey, Martha Graham (the contemporary dance choreographer) and Fawlty Towers, just to name a few.


The comedy in this performance is genius, the tiniest details are not missed and make for truly hilarious moments. The ‘accidents’ are so very relatable that it’s hard not to laugh, for example after the piano leg falls off and he uses his own leg to prop up the piano until he works out a better solution, he walks around suddenly realising that his leg has gone dead and collapses on every other step. We’ve all been there right? We’ve all sat on our leg a bit funny and suddenly when you get up you’re back on the floor again before realising that your leg has gone dead. Walking into the draping chandelier, dropping his pile of sheet music, raising an arm to make a signal only to have to awkwardly style it out as something else – simple stuff but made side splittingly funny by amazing performance and execution.


They say that you know a performer is a great one if they can perform ‘badly’ well. Well, I didn’t realise quite how amazing this performer was until the moment when the spotlight was focused on his hands making two ‘finger’ people run around the top of a stool, and sweat was pouring off him. Huge beads of sweat were dripping off his forehead, through the spotlight and onto the floor - it suddenly dawned on me how physically and with such high energy he had been performing. He simultaneously performed ridiculously chaotic and ungraceful movement with such grace, stamina and precision that I had forgotten this catastrophic figure was performing at all. He performed with every part of his body, his face, arms, fingers and even his legs and knees had their own little (hilarious and downright inventive) section. He performed comedy, circus tricks, hip-hop dance, aerial acrobatics and even played the piano himself too – all with such ease and fluidity.


My only disappointment about the whole thing is that I missed the clowning workshop with Thomas Monckton during the week – truly tragic. 


The Pianist has now closed. For more information, click here.


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