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Brighton Fringe 2017

Low Down

Sally Holloway directs and paces this concert and play in one. Mike Hatchard stars in his one-man play, at a keyboard. Sweet Waterfront 1’s a tight venue: it suits the mild claustrophobia here.


It’s a concert and play in one, comes the claim, and it is. Mike Hatchard stars in his one-man play, at a keyboard over which he appears slumped at the Luton Skyport hotel. Why has he ended up there? It’s not about failure. Sweet Waterfront 1’s a tight venue: it suits the mild claustrophobia here.


Sally Holloway directs and paces this late afternoon slot of Bernard Halfpen, an autistic, artistic child whose musicality propels him to pubs, vamping from memory jazz when Fairy Liquid, Beanz Means and ‘Mother Kelly’s Doorstep’ don’t suit, to the Royal School of Music (Hatchard went to the College, playing jazz) despite not fitting anywhere, fearing numbers, and then his past catches him unawares and bites him: twice. Two figures shape his adolescence and their return pivots a crisis. This as Hatchard swoops through a medley of tunes including hitting on classical stride as it were, Beethoven particularly.


Hatchard’s technique is phenomenal, rippling from one style to the next with an assured particular touch as he enacts Halfpen’s grimaces whilst getting on with the business of his musical gifts: Hatchard superbly conveys the introverted musicality that reaches out – for instance playing ‘Summertime’ or ‘The Girl from Ipanema’ – but self-communes so you realize there’s a dimension missing. What’s left is more intense. It’s easy to overlook Hatchard’s flinches when numbers are mentioned for instance because he plays his instrument so consummately.


There’s a point when he demonstrates what he calls uncommon mistakes, that’s style. Common mistakes are – mistakes. He perpetrates the alter only when a crisis is triggered. Losing his virginity to Sylvia, a 45 year old when not quite 15, he thinks he sees her in the front row when playing at a concert where he alter finds he’s won a prize. He vanishes for four years to Germany not even aware he’s cause a stir. His subsequent rediscovery of piano playing through another older woman Connie, who leaves him a piano, triggers a renaissance, and then he finds his school tormenter in a ditch, rescues him, then finds out…


How exactly he winds up playing at Luton and mildly abusing an old biddy who said she played like that once, then finding out who she is, and what happens then – it’s worth finding out. What Hatchard suggests is how people in this instance form a ritual pattern that self-disturbs when fond to be something other. It’s individual, not at all clichéd in the essence of Asperger’s figures, sheds understanding.


The Cocktail Pianist is ultimately radiant with self-knowledge. Hatchard too is a phenomenally gifted pianist even on an electric keyboard. His touch, mercurial dispatch are not of the medley kind. A first rate show wit enduring things to say, it’s also a comment on how we treat our gifts and they us. There’s just a hint of the terrible in this, despite the smile, and that’s its reach.