Portrait of Frances Hodgkins, Sunday, 26 April 2015, Wanaka

The sixth Wanaka-run Festival of Colour ended on a high with an inspired performance from Circo Aereo’s Thomas Monckton in The Pianist.

It is rare to witness an entire audience laughing out loud from the first minute, but Monckton’s clowning around gained giggles and guffaws from a sell-out crowd for a full hour.

It was top-notch physical theatre, from the first (failed) entrance to the last disaster, as Monckton tried to impress with a highbrow recital, hampered by a hostile set, a misbehaving grand piano, and his own studied incompetence.

But fortune favours the brave, and at every setback, Monckton met potential defeat with imagination and innovation, usually to his own detriment, giving a substantial twist to classic slapstick.

Monckton has a marvellously mobile face made for goofing around, and a body highly tuned to perform as a mime, contortionist, puppeteer, acrobat and comedian.

Pianist? Maybe not.

Leave that to Michael Houstoun, who guested with the Rodger Fox Big Band for a night of home grown New Zealand jazz and well-known dance numbers on Sunday night.

Classicist Houstoun added to his own repertoire with specially written arrangements of work from Prokofiev and Mike Nock.

Earlier, the Southern Sinfonia gave an educationally rewarding performance featuring an introductory talk and Anthony Ritchie’s delightful Portrait of Frances Hodgkins with a dramatised narration.

Each Festival of Colour seems to get better, upping the quality and variety of acts, from tiny gems like storytelling at its best in The Bookbinder, to big-name regulars like Houstoun and playwright Dave Armstrong.

Long may it continue.

Reviewed by Nigel Zega for the Otago Daily Times, Tuesday, 28 April 2015.

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