May 20, 2022

Thought-provoking: The Piano Man by @allthepigs at the New Diorama Theatre

He didn’t speak but he could play Tchaikovsky… 

The Piano Man is a thought-provoking performance inspired by unusual events that you may remember. In 2005 a man appeared in a label-less suit on the Kent coast, seemingly washed up out of the sea. Had he fallen off a ship? Was he an illegal immigrant? Was he a merman? Is merman even a word?

Without ID and unable to (or refusing to) talk, the man was handed over to medical staff. They discovered that though he didn’t speak, he did play the piano. At the time it was a mystery who he was, why he was there and how he had arrived. The trailer below sets the scene.

The production by AllthePigs is not concerned with the relatively simple mystery of who he was. The details are all in the public domain and early in the play we hear him called Andreas. Several flashbacks show him interacting at home in Germany, implying a failed relationship was the catalyst for his behaviour. Instead the episode is used as a peg for an investigation into the greater mystery of memory and communication. Rather than a bio-play, this is a performance that examines the way the brain works, the power of the media and the way we all communicate.

The stage is set in four distinct areas. Front left is a journalist’s office with a map of the world and a desk. Back left is an artist’s easel. Opposite these are the hospital ward and a doctor’s desk with lectern. Sheets of music on the floor form a high tide mark between the audience and the action. Bare bulbs hang from the ceiling all over the stage, giving an interrogation room feel.

These different areas are used to good effect. Rather than scene following scene the action continues in more than one area throughout the play. A spotlight might be highlighting the action in the hospital, but we can still see the journalist at work in his office or the doctor at her desk looking at X-rays.

The journalist is often a derided figure in contemporary culture. Here Chris Matragos’ weary reporter is not engaged in toxic behaviour but has communication problems of his own. Mobile phone calls reveal that his work/life balance is not impressing his girlfriend. When researching the story of the Piano Man he gets caught in a web of crossed wires, deceitful identifications trapping him as he tries to sort the truth from the lies.

Sarah Bradnum’s doctor is a competent, confident woman. She lectures the audience, explaining the way the brain works, explains that it is poorly understood. We’re told the brain accounts for 25% of your daily energy usage, (which makes you wonder why no one has launched a think more, lose weight diet plan). However,  unless you’re familiar with all the medical terms she also is communicating whilst not actually being understood.

Daniel Hallissey plays the central character with insouciance. From the start he appears to be faking rather than suffering any post traumatic stress disorders. But what is faking? If he is faking, is it anymore than the rest of us? We may speak and not rely on a piano but do we really communicate?

The 75 minute play raises provoking questions about what is normal, what is the relationship between memory and identity. Are we just the sum of our experiences?

There are no conclusions. You may leave the theatre slightly worried. What exactly is it that makes you you?

The Piano Man is on at the The New Diorama theatre until 15th November.

More details and tickets

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