While watching Piano_Play it is easy to be taken in by the illusion which the show sets up. We are presented with a single figure alone on stage at an electric piano in a darkened room, playing songs which he interjects with commentary about his own life. The effect is far more reminiscent of a cabaret or musical revue than of a play. But, despite all appearances, this show really is a piece of theatre, penned by Calum Finlay, with messages galore about love, obsession and coming of age as a queer man. This neat little production manages to tug at the heart strings and make an audience laugh to equal measure.
For a one-hander about love, you can’t go far wrong with this simple, gentle play
The play is based on a true story from 2017, as reported in local and national media, in which a jilted lover pushed his piano across Bristol to play and hopefully win back an ex-girlfriend. With the story altered in some of its finer details, not least by changing the ex-girlfriend to an ex-boyfriend, this one-man production from Charlie Russell invites the audience to consider whether such actions are “creepy, romantic or don’t know”.
Ed Zanders is magnificent as the sole performer on stage, interacting charmingly with the audience as he recounts his story. He punctuates his performance with classical and contemporary piano music, from Bach to Britney, playing both diegetic music integral to his story and tracks which act as a soundtrack to his emotions. He is clearly a great talent and I would happily have listened to him simply play for an hour, but he is also an engaging and moving as an actor.
There were a couple of times where I felt like the relatively simple story was being padded out to fill the whole timeslot, both by the script and the performance, and a few cheap laughs at the expense of the character’s mother and schoolfriends were a little too cartoonish to be taken seriously within the at-times high-stakes plot. Nevertheless, Zanders toes the line nicely between exaggerated and naturalistic in his performance, never going too far into the realms of the absurd and always keeping the audience involved. For a one-hander about love, you can’t go far wrong with this simple, gentle play – and fans of classical music will lap it up.