Will Pickvance is a one-man big band maestro at the piano. After an unneighbourly noise complaint has the police knocking at his door, the put-out insomniac jazzer connives to stick at the keys, rehearsing a genre-boggling repertoire from Chopin to Gershwin in the face of increasingly ludicrous restrictions to what and how he can play.
Pickvance rehearses in his sleep. He plays so much his feet are pedals, his fingers are keys, and his body a boxey frame tuned up with strings. You believe him when he tells you this, even though the ‘Claire de Lune’ dream sequence he plays under it suggest this might all be in his head. The show’s story is told as a virtuosic jukebox musical that truly convinces you this musician is half man, half baby grand.
I say baby grand, because this guy’s got chops and a decent swagger about his presence despite little-to-no staging backing him up. Pickvance, a rake-thin foppish sort of chap, actually boogie-woogies away on a weathered-looking upright instead. There’s not much else going on besides the music and a bit of mood lighting, but he manages to hold your attention. At first glance you might easily mistake him for a mild-mannered, stick-in-the-mud of a piano teacher when it’s clear, as soon as he plays, that he’s a stone-cold demon at the keys.
The over-arching narrative of a disgruntled neighbour with a twitchy disposition towards strongly worded letters introduces some fun party tricks to the set. He’s permitted to play between the hours of 5-5.30pm. Strictly no jazz. Or anything else for that matter. Except ‘Hungarian Rhapsody No.2’ (the piano piece from Tom & Jerry), as long as he doesn’t play the fourth beat in every bar. The turf war escalates as Pickvance’s compulsion to noodle gets away from itself. Soon he’s smuggling jazz licks into ‘Under Pressure’ by Queen as his upstairs neighbour blares it from his speaker. It’s great craic - undoubtedly a showcase of incredible talent - even if its gimmicks are cheesier than a Camembert convention, in Cheddar Gorge, near the village of Cheddar, hosted by Brie Larson.
There’s a rubbish impression of Liam Gallagher (or was it Noel?) that ties off two plots which fail to converge in any meaningful or emotional sort of way. It’s only supposed to be a bit of a laugh, but I was hoping for a bigger finish in a show that likes to make a song and dance of things. The original songs feel a tad like filler in the mishmash of adulterated pop covers which end up stealing focus from everything else that’s going on. The most enjoyable part of the show is the thrill of recognition at the snippets of songs that skip and surf along the sound waves, like jumping between channels on the radio.
Will Pickvance: Half Man Half Piano is a joyful hootenanny that combines cabaret storytelling and stellar musicianship. It’s good, clean fun – a foot-tapping, head-bobbing frivolity of a show with more to give, that’s all about the music.