Review – Pianomime

Dec 17 2013 | By More

✭✭✩✩✩ Unfocused entertainment

Will Pickvance with Woodstock the Horse. Photo ©  Tim Vincent-Smith

Will Pickvance with Woodstock the Horse. Photo © Tim Vincent-Smith

Mon 16 – Sun 22 December 2013
Review by Hugh Simpson

Frothy but lacking any real drive, Pianomime is a diverting but ultimately unsatisfactory hour at Summerhall.

Billed as ‘the long-overdue antidote to today’s pantomime’, most of the performance features pianist Will Pickvance narrating a stop-motion animation containing characters made from the components of a piano.

Pickvance combines undoubted musical talent with a likeably diffident, self-deprecating demeanour, while the animations, courtesy of Tim Vincent-Smith, are accomplished and inventive, reminiscent of Jan Švankmajer but with a considerably softer edge.

Despite one of the characters in the animation pleasingly being called Dame Dibdin, the story is not that reminiscent of a pantomime or particularly memorable. The synchronisation of music and visuals needs considerable work, and at times Pickvance seems to lack confidence in his material.  There are the occasional opportunities to shout ‘behind you’ or boo, but these have been shoehorned in and he is almost embarrassed to signal them.

The jokes, while pleasingly groan-inducing, are too few and far between. A knowing, self-referential mocking of what is already a famously knowing and self-referential form needs to be a lot more clearly thought out than this. Much of the music, meanwhile, is accompaniment to the visuals rather than actual songs – which, when they appear, are relatively strong, and should have made up a greater part of the performance.

When audience participation is called for, the whole thing slides from endearingly slapdash to uncomfortably unprepared. The community singing, for example, is a nice touch, but forgets the golden rule of such occasions – if you’re not using a familiar tune, at least let the audience hear it first.

Perhaps the spectacle of the audience struggling with an unfamiliar melody and words they had only just seen was supposed to symbolise something about pantomime, but if so it was unclear. Indeed, after it being suggested that the whole point of the exercise was to establish the ‘pantomime recovery centre’, the overall message was extremely opaque.

Stuffed full of failed soap actors and celebrity ‘z-listers’

The main criticism levelled here at modern pantomimes – that they are stuffed full of failed soap actors and celebrity ‘z-listers’ – may strike a chord with audiences in the south-east of England, but is not really a problem yet in Scotland, where the traditional panto has proved somewhat more robust.

Overall, this is a relatively pleasing entertainment, if worryingly insubstantial. Despite the trappings of modern technology, it is resolutely old-fashioned in its approach; the combination of good-natured, almost arch music and a series of steadily more tenuous anagrams will remind audiences of a certain age of Richard Stilgoe.

Pickvance is one of those performers who suffer from the absence of variety shows, as a more finely honed, twenty-minute long version of this would be a knockout as part of a longer entertainment. As it is, even at 55 minutes this is stretched uncomfortably thin. Apparently lacking the courage of its convictions, this show is neither a celebration of pantomime nor an attack on it, and as a result is rendered inconsequential. There is no denying the talent here, but the focus is sadly lacking.

Running time 55 mins
Run ends Sunday 22 December 2013
Daily at 8 pm
Anatomy Lecture Theatre, Summerhall, 1 Summerhall EH9 1PL
Details and tickets at


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