A career clown's opus

JIM CHIPP
Last updated 09:38 16/04/2014

Great pretender: Thomas Monckton is the pianist.

Thomas Monckton
Great pretender: Thomas Monckton is the pianist.

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Although his careers advisers failed to suggest clowning as a career, Thomas Monckton knew otherwise.

"I saw Marcel Marceau when I was young," he said. "I saw a successful clown - that gave me the perception that it was something that you could do successfully, perhaps a mistaken one."

Monckton said Marceau was 70 when he saw him and that convinced him clowning could be a life's work.

He will appear in the wordless one- man show The Pianist at Wellington's Circa Theatre later this month.

Monckton said he admired the stand-up comedy work of Rowan Atkinson and loved his Mr Bean character.

Monckton's style has strong similarities with Atkinson's in its physicality.

The pianist is a would-be classical concert musician who thinks he is a lot better than he is.

"He has managed to fool everyone, including himself, that he's a concert pianist," Monckton said.

The hapless character tries to live up to the high-society expectations he has created for himself and fails dismally.

Monckton grew up in Taranaki, learning to juggle and ride a unicycle from the age of 8.

He left school a year early to join a Christchurch circus academy.

He was always more interested in clowning than other circus activities and liked that clowns could work throughout their lives, unlike acrobats or other circus performers, who have limited working lives.

These days he is based in Paris, which is convenient and central to his work. He works with three theatre companies around the world.

As well as Wellington's Show Pony, which produced The Pianist, there is Circo Aereo in Finland, which commissioned this work, and Kallo Collective, a company he co-founded to develop works.

The Pianist benefited from Circo Aereo's high production values, he said.

"Circo Aereo have been around and know what they are doing with the aesthetic, which is a very strong part of the show - the music, the lighting and the sound."

- A trailer for The Pianist is on YouTube. The Pianist, Circa Theatre, April 22 until May 3. For information or to book, ph 801 7992 or visit circa.co.nz.

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