“Anatomy of the Piano” by Will Pickvance

at Summerhall, Wednesday 7th August 2013

*Originally written for A Younger Theatre*

I’ve always said that, if I could play any musical instrument, it’d be the saxophone. But after Anatomy of the Piano I think I’d now say the instrument of its title. If a measure of good art is making something shift inside you, then Will Pickvance’s stand-up-come-classical-concert-come-medical-lecture show is up there with the best. It’s a surreal, hilarious 60 minutes which manages to lift your spirits and transport you to a better version of reality.

Don’t get me wrong, this isn’t really theatre. It’s not anything really, except a man sat a piano telling funny stories about the way they work and the effect they have on an audience. It’s all fabricated, of course. For example, we get told that all pianos descend from the cave piano and that you have to be careful with their teeth. It gives us the tools to look at everyday objects in slightly different ways.

Pickvance’s delivery is irreverent but honest, and he has a constant cheeky grin on his face which makes us go along with the ruse completely. And there’s an infectious sense of wonder; when he shows us inside the piano, it’s like he’s discovering it all again for the first time. By hitting the strings directly, an utterly fresh sound is created.

By talking faux-academically about pianocity and radial happenings, Pickvance makes us feel we are learning something whilst listening to gorgeously played, half-jazzy, half-classical piano music. The climax sees him feeding off the “opinionators” in the room and creating a stream of different musical styles before calmly contemplating where it all started.

With Tim Minchin off writing musicals, there’s a gap for piano-based comedians which Pickvance sort of fills. It’s not quite comedy – there’s more to it than that – but it’s certainly funny. Anatomy of the Piano is far less angry and acerbic than other shows of the same ilk, and at times it’s better than Minchin. Even if you know bugger all about pianos, this show will still inspire. You’ll come out knowing bugger all too. But you’ll be able to speak in depth about their gills.

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