Circo Aereo & Thomas Monckton: The Pianist

It’s a classic start: an empty stage, a shrouded grand piano, a low-hanging chandelier, a flurry from behind the curtains. The long, lanky, ginger-haired form of Thomas Monckton pops out briefly – a flurry of face-powder and flicked coat-tails – then disappears behind the blacks. Puppet-esque forms take shape, morph and dissolve. Eventually, the eponymous Pianist appears. Then disappears. Then re-appears.

Things aren’t going too well for him. The inanimate objects in his world conspire to thwart his attempts to get the show on the road. He slips and slides on top of the piano as he tries to remove the dusty shroud. The chandelier is hanging too low, so he practically dislocates his neck trying to avoid it. His music sheets fly away, causing him to scrabble into the audience after them. The leg of the piano falls off. And so it goes – each clowning moment played out beautifully. Monckton’s clown charms us with his mix of high-status aloofness and low-status slapstick. One moment his nose is in the air, acting as if everything is just fine and dandy; the next he’s looking at us with a desperate grin, inviting our sympathy. It’s a well-held balance.

The hour or so in his company is a complete joy. I love the big moments – the hanged-man chandelier swing; the rubber-legged dance on top of the piano ending in a crash as he disappears off the edge; the ludicrous beast-of-burden dragging of the piano across the stage on his back. Behind the clowning there is evidence of solid skills in aerial circus, object manipulation, contortion – and (eventually) actual piano-playing. But I also notice and appreciate the little things. The particular shade of orange of his socks, and the running joke of how slippery those socks are on the polished floor. The little glass teardrop dangling from the chandelier that hits him in the eye every time he passes it.

I’m also intrigued by the artistic choices made by this relatively young performer – here we have a contemporary circus piece that has the look and feel of an age-old vaudeville act. I appreciate the fact that the show is a truly international work: presented by a Finnish circus company (with many of the Circo Aereo team on board as collaborators), featuring a New Zealander who lives and works in France.

There are a few moments here and there that I’d probably suggest cutting back slightly (a robotic dance with the sheets of music, for example). That aside, it’s a show that’s hard to fault – perhaps not as adventurous in form as some would like, but I’m happy with the beautiful delivery of classic forms.

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Dorothy Max Prior

About Dorothy Max Prior

Dorothy Max Prior is the editor of Total Theatre Magazine, and is also a performer, writer, dramaturg and choreographer/director working in theatre, dance, installation and outdoor arts. Much of her work is sited in public spaces or in venues other than regular theatres. She also writes essays and stories, some of which are published and some of which languish in bottom drawers – and she teaches drama, dance and creative non-fiction writing.