Alchemy of the Piano

Mon 10th – Sun 30th August 2015


Catherine Crook

at 10:48 on 19th Aug 2015



"Sometimes, I can’t tell whether the landscape is the music, or the music is the landscape,” Will Pickvance tells us in his one-man show Alchemy of the Piano, and although he is talking about the views from his window on a roadtrip here, a musical landscape is exactly what he creates for the audience in this hour of him, a piano, and a rogue bottle of surface cleaner.

It is a landscape of music from his childhood, from his days working at Skibo Castle, and from suggestions from his audience; from films, from famous classical pieces, from seemingly anything, big or small, mapping his life onto the piano in a way that is simultaneously comedic and poignant.

He begins by charting his discovery of learning the basic ‘boxes’ of melody, showing us his ability to ‘box’ away recognisable musical elements and apply them in order to create any song he wants. These little boxes of recognisable musical features ascend into lengthy piano solos as the show goes on, wherein film scores, pop songs, and classical music intertwine and complement each other in unexpected and hilarious ways, such as the co-mingling of ‘Like a Virgin’ with the Wedding March. His talent is undeniable, and his enthusiasm is infectious; Pickvance just lives and breathes music, and you can tell in his playfulness and inexhaustible wealth of styles.

Not only is Pickvance a technically excellent pianist, but he is also a captivating storyteller, never feeling anything less than genuinely authentic; from anecdotes about his relationship with his family to how he inadvertently insulted Alan Silvestri, his style is in no way forceful or self-indulgent but works simply because of his rapport with his audience. His awareness of his audience results in some real laugh-out-loud moments as well – his impression of his piano teacher and usage of instantly recognisable songs in his music kept the audience amused and invested in guessing what they’d hear next. It’s also just great fun to watch Pickvance play; his talent flourishes almost effortlessly and a genuinely enjoyable, warm atmosphere was created by his intuitive, light-hearted relationship with his audience.

Overall, Alchemy of the Piano was a joyful and moving one-man show, celebrating in a love of music and creativity by an incredibly talented pianist and storyteller. I’d struggle to think of anybody who wouldn’t enjoy Alchemy of the Piano; Pickvance’s talent is a draw in itself, and the creative, comedic nature of the rest of the show is simply icing on the cake.


Fergus Morgan

at 02:09 on 20th Aug 2015



Will Pickvance’s Alchemy of the Piano is quite simply the most charming hour you can spend at this year’s Fringe. Performing in Summerhall’s Anatomy Lecture Theatre – an echoing yet intimate auditorium ringed by steeply, raked wooden seats that used to serve as a theatre for animal dissection apparently – Pickvance eloquently and elegantly dissects his own life in music. His hands constantly dance up and down the keys of an upright piano with its front panel removed to expose the intricacies underneath, the audience gazing down at him, enraptured.

Pickvance is an engaging performer, both in his piano-playing and his storytelling. The latter flits from anecdotes about his early family life to comic routines about his time as the resident pianist at Skibo Castle, where he had to cater to the erratic requests of the rich and famous – one tale concerning the Oscar-winning film composer Alan Silvestri is particularly funny. Pickvance’s soft voice, his obvious earnestness, and his ability to spin an anecdote out for several minutes whilst maintaining the audience’s attention make for truly entertaining tale-telling.

Expressive interludes of piano intersperse his anecdotes. These are particularly evocative, each suited to the location and moment of the story being told. Summerhall’s Anatomy Lecture Theatre transforms into a cosy cocktail party, into the classroom of an eccentric teacher, before journeying out into the rugged wilderness of Scotland’s west coast. This perfect marriage of music and storytelling is extremely arresting.

But it is Pickvance’s individual numbers on the piano, his irresistible playfulness, his effortless fluidity, that impresses most. Here is a man that truly understands his instrument; here is a man for whom the keys, the pedals, the strings and the hammers are mere extensions of his arms and legs. It is only as a result of this expertise that Pickvance can entertain the audience with his subtle musical observations, his casual mash-ups of Mendelsohn and Madonna, his glorious elaborations upon Strauss.

Pickvance bookends his show with a quote from Thelonius Monk. “There ain’t no wrong notes on the piano” he tells the audience, “only 88 opportunities to be right.” Although the message of Pickvance’s show – that ultimately expressionism and imagination trump all else – is encapsulated perfectly in this phrase, one feels that it would be difficult for anyone but Pickvance to produce such evocative music in such charming fashion.


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