Theatre review: Piano_Play, Underbelly, Edinburgh

The story of one mans relationship with music
The story of one mans relationship with music
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On his Roland electric piano in one corner of Underbelly’s Wee Coo, Tom (Ed Zanders) kicks off with a spot of Rachmaninov.

Piano_Play, Underbelly, George Square –The Wee Coo (Venue 300) * * * *

Despite once being once described as “a six foot scowl”, the Russian is, in Tom’s opinion, better than anti-depressants. But then, music is Tom’s language, as he goes on to demonstrate.

Calum Finlay’s Piano_Play, directed by Matt Hassall, is the story of one man’s relationship with music, and how, ultimately, he attempted to use it to win back his first love, a boy called Alex. Storytelling is interwoven with piano music, from Bach and Debussy to Scott Joplin, Grease and Britney Spears.

Tom is a teenager when he is sent to piano lessons with the idiosyncratic Miss DeLuca. It is from her that he learns how to take a piece of music and use it to channel his feelings, and how it’s always worth trying – as Gluck did with Orfeo et Euridice – to make your own happy ending.

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There are times when the plot wears a little thin: Tom’s infatuation with Alex appears to be built on the slightest of foundations, and leads to some behaviour which, if studied too closely, might leave us somewhat uncomfortable. But we’re perfectly prepared to shelve these issues in the face of a clever idea as well executed as this.

To succeed, it requires a performer who can both act and play, often at the same time, and a subtle interweaving of music and words. Fortunately, Piano_Play has both.

Thus, a tocatta by Ravel comes to capture exactly the hopefulness and anxiety of first love, and Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel the “friendly dread of returning home to see your parents”, and how music can become a language for all those things we can’t put into words.

Until 26 August.

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