Will Pickvance brought his whimsical vision of the history, evolution and "anatomy" of the piano to adult audiences in 2013 and ’14, to a generally good reception. But his faux-naïve air and understated enthusiasm for his instrument are, for my money, much better suited to this family show, which delivers laughs, some beautiful music and a wee bit of education with quietly assured aplomb.
As with the grownup show, Pickvance starts his story in his own childhood. His hopes of owning a space rocket were dashed one Christmas morning when a piano turned up instead. But his lifelong love of the instrument, it is implied, has taken him to just as many strange and wonderful worlds as a rocket ever could. Then it’s on to a sort of magical realist history of the instrument, complete with Spike Milligan-esque pen-and-ink sketches and lots of illustrative tinkling of the ivories.
Children will love unpicking which of Pickvance’s claims to believe: the instrument started life as a "cave piano"; its evolution was initially aquatic, as it gradually developed whale-like "teeth", "radials" and "gills". We move through Beethoven, who encouraged the necessary adaptations to make it truly piano and forte, to Fats Waller, whose improvisational approach meant that pianists can go on “a new adventure every single time".
Pickvance’s boyish passion is infectious, his playing exemplary and his humour just the right side of twee for the intended audience. It’s bound to please parents as an introduction to the instrument for their little ones. Much more importantly, children will be spellbound and inspired as well.