For the love of a little red piano

Solemn yet spotty: Rocco and his piano. Photograph courtesy Montecasino Theatre.
Solemn yet spotty: Rocco and his piano. Photograph courtesy Montecasino Theatre.

It’s curiously challenging to attempt to pinpoint quite what makes Rocco de Villiers’s work so utterly entertaining and sublimely successful. Not unlike Nataniël, but still holding firmly to his own brand, his is an approach that is light-hearted yet earnest, filled with puffs of effervescent notes yet competent, and deeply hilarious while touching tragic simultaneously. It is also unashamedly lacking in the kind of conventional polish you might believe you need to expect in a revue of this nature.

And indeed, as the show’s title indicates, it is all about the piano – not to mention the indelible image cast into your mind’s eye of a four-year-old Rocco in a white safari suit, upstaging his “unbelievably untalented” music teacher. The upright red little piano sits rather vulnerably centre stage, a counterpoint between de Villiers’s spotted pants and the equally spotted backdrop.  Blending his unique brand of story-telling, which will have you rolling in the aisles, with his piano playing, there’s a vicious sentimentality in his narrataive which celebrates Afrikaans’s delicious barbs, that just don’t bear translation.

Introducing a Kawai piano from Japan, and touching on many things from tango to Edelweiss from Rodgers and Hammerstein’s Sound of Music, to his own sweet, delicate and oft jazzy compositions, de Villiers seduces the audience from the moment he’s in the spotlight. And you fall in love with him, with no hesitation. His show is a brand like no other, and it’s as infallible and unshakeable as any household product.

The actress Lauren Botha performs a kind of “magician’s assistant” role, which lacks development, and adds a “take-it-or-leave-it” bit of spice that could have been hilariously developed or omitted altogether.

All About the Piano, crusted as it is with unabashed cliché and sentimentality, doesn’t pretend to be anything more than delicious, light entertainment, with a bite. You come away from it with a grin on your face and a fresh new positive outlook. It’s all that the popular music of the Thirties, Forties and Fifties presented, coupled with prickly bits of Afrikaans.

  • All About the Piano written and performed by Rocco de Villiers features Lauren Botha. It is at the Studio Theatre, Montecasino in Fourways until April 12.

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Robyn Sassen

A freelance arts writer since 1998, I fell in love with the theatre as a toddler, proved rubbish as a ballerina: my starring role was as Mrs Pussy in Noddy as a seven-year-old, and earned my stripes as an academic in Fine Arts and Art History, in subsequent years. I write for a range of online and print publications, including the Sunday Times, the Mail & Guardian and and was formerly the arts editor of the SA Jewish Report, a weekly newspaper with which I was associated for 16 years. This blog promises you new stories every week, be they reviews, profiles, news stories or features.

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