Piano_Play styles itself as your classic autobiographical one-hander: the ‘life story mixed with given skill’ genre of fringe show. “He’s not coming, is he Rachel?”, says our protagonist - Tom - as he opens the show, before reeling off a rant about his ex-boyfriend’s tweet earlier that day. Over the course of the action, told through a bold combination of monologue and piano, we grow to realise that the story we’ve been spun is perhaps not as honest as we might have initially believed; with cringey teenage infatuation turning into something more obsessional.
Despite its intelligent storyline, which feels like a musicology lecture meeting a late-night confessional, where Piano_Play really succeeds is the incorporation of the piano into the action. Solo actor-musician Ed Zanders has a real technical challenge - not does he need to underscore his own performance on the piano, but he also needs to act through the piano playing itself - and he deals with it with staggering ease. We totally buy that he is a lovesick twenty-something-year-old with a penchant for music - not just within the frame of the production, but as the premise for the whole production. Also deserving of a mention is Matt Hassall’s sharp, minimalistic direction; erring on just the right side of believable naturalistism, whilst also holding the space with Tom’s eccentric, slightly nerdy posh-boy idiosyncrasies. The play very much isn’t just one man and a piano - it feels like something slightly bigger and more theatrical, just enough to keep us on-side through Tom’s flights of fancy, whilst also not distracting from Zander’s beautifully nuanced and self-aware performance.
Gorgeously morally grey, whilst also giving clear scope for the audience to recognise that Tom’s behaviour is very much not okay, Piano_Play is a witty, enthralling and complex examination of unrequited love turned sour.