In a play featuring powerful poetry, captivating physical sequences and some first-rate piano playing, it’s a shame the standalone talents don’t gel together more in Riotous Company’s Scherzo for Piano and Stick, to create an all-round excellent piece of theatre. The play features the company’s founder and Artistic Director, Mia Theil Have, who, accompanied by Nikola Kodjabashia on piano, uses movement and sticks to tell the tale. Peter Oswald’s short poems are intertwined in the story here and are themselves cryptically beautiful, with Carroll-esque playfulness coming through in lines such as: “I didn’t mean that you’re a rabbit, I think that you’re a rose.” However the medium – or creative visions – in play do more to confuse than enhance Oswald’s words.
On the whole Have masters her sticks effortlessly, at best creating the illusion they’re mastering her. However, there were a couple of sequences in which her movements and coordination lacked the grace and precision a professional dancer would have bestowed upon the performance. Have’s wriggly movements and unidentifiable characters entertain us, but director Tage Larsen’s decision to have Have switch between personas so frequently, never pausing to develop a character, leaves us unable to connect or sympathise with any.
Scherzo is not without charming moments. Have miming a game of snooker on the piano gets a well-deserved laugh as her imaginary ball hits a high key, and Kodjabashia’s hands become the ball trickling down the keyboard. Equally enchanting is Have turning a material red rose into a cloth, then into a mop and finally into a flag – with enough speed and trickery to impress a magician. Kodjabashia, as the playfully awkward, gawky piano player contrasts well with Have’s feisty nymph-like Stick; the two move across the stage, him clumsily attempting to mirror her performance to howls of laughter from the auditorium. And foolery aside, Kodjabashia’s piano playing is a treat to listen to, as are the jazz and folk songs Have sings.
Larsen’s production is currently being staged in the stunning nineteenth century Coronet cinema in Notting Hill, and it’s worth seeing the play purely to experience the venue with its winding corridors, tilting wooden floors and stylish hidden bar. In this space, Lyn Cunningham’s warm, simple lighting captures the performance tastefully, casting artful shadows across Have as she moves across the minimalistic set. Again, however, it’s a pity not more is made from the capacity for the sticks to form shadows on the walls and stage – a visual storytelling trick has been missed here. Riotous Company’s Scherzo is frustrating in that it’s comprised of many strong artistic components, yet these fragmented elements, like broken sticks, prove hard to fit together here.
Scherzo for Piano and Stick is playing the Coronet Print Room until 20 October 2016. For more information and tickets, see Print Room theatre website.
Photo: Tommy Bay