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The Piano Man

Daniel Hallissey in The Piano Man. Photo: Ciaran Dowd Daniel Hallissey in The Piano Man. Photo: Ciaran Dowd
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What makes us who we are? AllthePigs Theatre Company takes this question, weaving it into a beguiling real-life enigma and producing a show that’s also a hymn to the power of theatre, with moments of poetic beauty.

When, in 2005, a shoeless, suited, soaking wet man was found wandering the Isle of Sheppey, off the Kent coast, he entranced the newspapers. Mute and suffering from amnesia, he only communicated through drawing. It was soon established he was a fine pianist and he was dubbed ‘the piano man’.

But the truth behind this fairy-tale mystery was a let-down. It was claimed he was a fraud, a Bavarian called Andreas Grassi, who ultimately returned to Germany. And yet, unanswered questions swirled. The bare, cold facts left gaps that couldn’t be filled by a place of origin.

It’s in these spaces in the story that this devised piece dances, bringing together physical theatre and neurology as it explores the ways we find and lose ourselves. The script is perfunctory and characterisation is thin, but words aren’t really the point here.

When, joyfully, the set itself transforms into something else, Grassi (Daniel Hallissey, as sad-eyed and expressive as Chaplin) smiles ruefully. And as the ensemble cast ebbs and flows together like the rushing ocean, Sam Carrack’s production evokes pain, need and wonder.

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Verdict
Weaves a real-life mystery into a lyrical exploration of identity that is also a hymn to the power of theatre
Tom Wicker
Tom is a London-based freelance writer who also reviews for Time Out and contributes to publications including The Telegraph, Gay Times and Exeunt
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