“He couldn’t speak. But he could play Tchaikovsky”
You may or may not remember the case of The Piano Man, a dishevelled gentleman found washed up on the Kent coast who for four months was utterly silent, baffling those trying to help him rediscover who he was and what had happened to him. Opting to examine this story and to devise an original piece of theatre out of it, AllthePigs reflect and refract the events through a contemporary prism, finding their own route into the strange world of Andreas Grassl as he eventually turned out to be. Delving back into his recent personal history to suggest the impact a traumatic split with his boyfriend might have had on his emotional health, exploring the differing ways that the press and the medical establishment treated him whilst nothing was known, going off at a tangent to hear current thinking on how the brain works in relation to memory and identity, they come at the tale from all angles.
Director Sam Carrack has done an excellent job in working the devised nature of the show into something more organically fluid, providing connective tissue for the constituent parts. Angelo Paragoso’s expressive movement work has a powerful impact when it pulls the whole company together to evoke feelings of helplessness and loss of control, but it is equally compelling when depicting the intimacy between Andreas and his lover. A neat parallel is drawn between being blinded with a surfeit of scientific terminology in a lecture about the brain and being overwhelmed by medical professionals all keen to solve the latest mystery. And scattered as these segments are, they rarely feel disjointed due to these criss-crossing links which bind them into an often beguiling piece of theatre which possesses a gentle but insistent power, even when it converses in German.
AllthePigs’ production (I was reminded that I’d seen and much enjoyed Stacy at this very same venue a while back) feels as much interested in the telling of the story as the story itself and so there are moments, undeniably beautiful as they are, where the focus slips a little. So much is already unknowable about Grassl’s experience that adding further obfuscation rather than clarity (even just of their own theatrical vision and purpose rather than ‘the truth’ as it were) chips away a little at the effectiveness of the piece. But you’d be hard pressed to remember that in the immediate aftermath of watching The Piano Man as Rachel Good’s design delivers a quietly gorgeous visual flourish which is just inspired.