Written & Performed by Will Pickvance
Directed by Lu Kemp
Capturing the nuances of live music is a difficult feat over a digital medium. In an era of instant gratification and streaming, music is the most accessible art form. Yet, Perth Theatre’s live performance of First Piano on the Moon will likely remind those of the intimate beauty of concert performances and the impact music has on children.
After being chosen as his school’s finest player, and to represent them at a concert in Salzburg, young Will can’t help but feel concerned. Unfortunately, Will suspects his only other skill in life besides his talents with the piano is daydreaming. Underprepared, anxious, and too busy daydreaming, Will cannot find the confidence within him to perform for the concert. Then he sees it. A humble instrument, with a tempting sign placed atop its polished hood: “Do Not Play This Piano”. Well, it would be rude not to…
Fundamentally with children’s theatre, a connection needs to be established with the performer and audience early. Thankfully, there are no qualms with Will Pickvance’s ability to connect with the audience and recreate the award-winning production Magda Dragan directed for a Fringe 2019 premiere.
Back to front, upside down, inside out – there’s nothing but brilliance from Pickvance and his unquestionable talents. But more than anything, Pickvance demonstrates his namesake as the half-piano, half-man with relish – he isn’t simply playing the piano, Pickvance very much is an extension of the instrument. As such, his manner of playing and articulation of storytelling infuses into one another, as his diction and tone mimic the climbing scales of the piano or the swift genre shifts between jazz or classical. It’s difficult to rip yourself away to appreciate the technical and imaginative talent displayed throughout the production.
And Pickvance isn’t only portraying himself, as his energy as the chaotic maestro Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart brings the prolific composer to life. There’s an appreciative grounding of the idol, that even Mozart had to learn from somewhere and draw from his inspirations and admiration, be this his father or Johann Sebastian Bach. But there’s a confidence here which Will lacks, as the pair interact Pickvance volleys back and forth with relative ease, save for the occasional confusing moment.
First Piano on the Moon has an uncanny ability in reading between the lines of music, disrupting the expectations of classical and genre-defining melodies and manipulating them with a dash of panache, concocting a sublime hybrid of concert and improvisational storytelling. Diversifying as the story explains, Pickvance illuminates Mozart to the future, of contemporary influences of his work in the unlikeliest of places. From The Doors to Little Richard, the New Orleans Jazz infusion sequence is a particular symphonic highlight of the production as Pickvance warps the composition to demonstrate the fluidity of music.
Merging animation with live performance enhances the production’s momentum, an important inclusion, given how little space Pickvance has in the studio and his position behind the piano. Tim Vincent Smith’s line illustrations hark back to the schoolyard aesthetic, the scribbles at the back of jotters and in the corner or exam papers and make for an impressive overlay dynamic to Pickvance’s real-time playing.
Seamless, Lu Kemp’s direction of transitions disguises any prop manipulations, enhanced by Fee Dalgleish’s lighting design. It hones our focus precisely where it should be, on Pickvance and the music he plays. Shifting to the digital format, the team spot the opportunity to focus on the intricacies normally unseen to the audience. Close-up shots of the finger-work on the ivories serve to rub salt into those jealous of just how adept Pickvance’s skills are.
Onward to the moon, First Piano on the Moon lifts off and leaves all expectations behind as the score reaches gorgeously atmospheric heights. Mingling charming storytelling with enchanting melody, Pickvance and Kemp transcend a digital medium and draw audiences into the heart of a concert, relishing the challenge in encouraging a new generation of music lovers and reigniting the imaginations of old dab-hand players.
Photo Credit – Peter Dibdin