Will Pickvance: Half Man Half Piano

Aug 14 2022 | By More

★★★★☆     Shimmering

Assembly George Square Gardens (Venue 3): Wed 3 – Sun 28 Aug 2022
Review by Thom Dibdin

Mild mannered to a fault and fascinating with it, pianist Will Pickvance is revealed to be an equally enthralling storyteller in Half Man Half Piano, at the Piccolo theatre in Assembly George Square Gardens all fringe.

Sitting at his piano as the audience enter, as if he had just finished a concert, Pickvance announces the encore, launching into a rousing piece that soon begins to meander. Not without purpose, but into a more soporific space as he starts to comment on what he is playing.

Will Pickvance. Pic: Peter Dibdin

Most pianist storytellers either do one thing at a time or, if they play as they talk, address their audience across the top of the piano. Pickvance sits so the audience are on his side of the keyboard and while he plays, he turns to address us directly, playing the most tricky notes with his hands behind him.

It immediately adds a level of intimacy to his performance that is in keeping with the nature of his story – a mashed-up mingling of tales about insomnia, a neighbour who calls the police because of his piano playing, meeting famous people and discovering he has been invited to an old friend’s wedding not as a guest, but as the entertainment.

The first thing to say is that it is all true. Everything he talks about happened. The timings are shuggled and events meshed together for dramatic effect, but there is the sheen of truth here. The perils of tenement living, the trial of that four am inability to get back to sleep, discovering that the piano he is playing belongs to… Well, that’s half the reveal.

casually flippant

The music side of this is equally casually flippant but true. He slips from Chopin and was that a touch of Liszt – definitely a big slice of Beethoven and Bach – into jazz and pop, the Beatles, Stevie Wonder, Bob Dylan, Herbie Hancock and even TV tunes – was that Dr Who and Neighbours?

Yet this is no random melange of great tunes, a mix-up without frontiers. Every piece of music, every note, serves the telling of his tales, all seamlessly blended under James Callas Ball’s precise direction.

Will Pickvance. Pic: Peter Dibdin

Sometimes the playing is atmospheric as Pickvance puts on a blindfold and drifts off to sleep, still playing, still describing the dreams that turn into nightmares. At other times descriptive, slipping from one genre to another, one composer to the next, as he tries to find out which famous pianist played the piano he is on.

There are songs too, in their appropriate place in the narrative. More mild delivery, a deferential presence behind the keyboards.

Which, unfortunately for Pickvance and his audience, is the only undoing of the show – at least it is when he is performing in a tent – a very well-appointed intimate tent, but a tent none-the-less. Plonked down into in a beer garden at early evening drinking time.

Pickvance’s quietude would easily reach to the back of an inside venue. A packed Queens Hall, Usher Hall or even 3,000-seat Playhouse would be with his every note and word, right to the back row. But here, the hum of chatter, bleeding in from outside, is too obtrusive to overlook.

From the front rows, though, Pickvance’s whimsical tales and shimmering piano playing are a proper treat, an oasis of mild-mannered invention amidst a braggardly attention-seeking fringe.

Running time: One hour (no interval)
Assembly George Square Gardens (Piccolo spiegeltent) George Square, EH8 9LH (Venue 3):
Wednesday 3 – Sunday 28 Aug 2022
Daily (not Weds): 19:25.
Tickets and details: Book here.

Website: https://www.willpickvance.com
Twitter: @willpickvance


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