It wasn’t until I attended Will Pickvance’s lecture Anatomy of the Piano at the Noodle Palace that I learned that the piano is a living organism. Here I was thinking that it was just a sonorous wooden box filled with strings and hammers, but it’s actually got a protective (hairless) skin, cheeks, teeth, and a brain, just like us (or most of us). Pickvance slowly dissects the piano for us in his one man show with the aid of song and crudely drawn diagrams and sketches to enhance our learning.
Noodle Palace is the newly re-purposed Piccadilly Cinema, which closed for business late last year. Fringe World has taken over the space temporarily and it houses a number of local and international acts such as Pickvance’s, in three cinemas that have been renamed The Barry Hall, The Ken Dome and The Tina Arena. Noodle Palace boasts a lively program and generated a bit of Fringe buzz by keeping its location a secret until just before the festival opened. The news broke with a fair bit of excitement by festival participants and punters who love to see Perth’s Art Deco spaces stay in use, no matter how badly they are in need of repair and refurbishing.
So it’s with forgiveness that we turn a blind eye to the fact that Noodle Palace is a little bit shabby around the edges; the seats are broken and lumpy, there was no air conditioning to speak of, but at least there are three stages, and that’s what the artists of Perth are crying out for. And anyway, we should be used to roughing it at Fringe, where most shows are housed in outdoor tents without air conditioning, so why should we expect it in an indoor venue? No matter, the shows are short and sweet, cheap and cheerful, and there are always plenty of cool beverages available at a fairly reasonable price.
However, poor young Mr. Pickvance looked like he was absolutely melting in his rumpled cardigan and button-down shirt. Somebody should have reminded him that it’s summertime down here in Australia. Good thing he kept the ambiance cool by tinkling the ivories with songs that evoked outer space and deep space. His presentation is a mixture of recital, comedy act and faux-lecture, and his quirky absurdist humor is charming, as is his stage presence. He comes across more like an eternal student rather than a lecturer; he’s like a kid who never grew up, retaining an optimistic fascination with the world around him.
He likes to make connections between random things for humorous effect, invent made-up terminology for all things piano-related, and his drawings have a kind of distorted Ralph Steadman quality, without all the ink spatters. While the show starts off with plenty of surprises and a quick pace, somewhere midway through it becomes increasingly cerebral and metaphysical. I struggled to stay focused for the latter half of the program and at some point the heat of the venue started to work against us all. Although Pickvance did his best to keep us entertained, the air became quite thick and stuffy in the late evening, while the music he played began to sound somewhat like a lullaby to me.
Despite that, it’s a pleasant hour of silly piano ‘history’, especially suited for music nerds and those who have had a piano lesson or two.