On Thursday 7th April 2005 an unknown man was found wandering the streets of Sheerness, Kent, wearing a soaking wet suit and tie with no labels. He did not speak or have any identification. Remaining silent, he was presented with a pen and paper in the hope he would write his name. Instead, he drew a detailed sketch of a grand piano. When hospital staff took him to a piano he played for four hours. The international mystery of The Piano Man was born.
Remaining silent in a secure mental health unit unable to remember who he was or how he came to be on the beach, and being treated for potential memory-related conditions including post-traumatic stress disorder and neurological diseases, his identity could not be established. Orchestras around Europe were contacted in a bid to find out who this maestro was, and a dedicated helpline was set up to try and identify the ‘Piano Man’ to which over 800 calls were made. After four months the man spoke for the very first time after a nurse asked him if he “will speak to me today”, to which he replied in English “yes, I think I will”. The mystery shattered, the press vilified him as a fraud with the Daily Mail running with the headline “The Piano Man Sham” and accusing him of faking the memory loss.
Ten years on, little more is known about the mysterious man. His name is Andreas Grassl, is now 30 years old and he is German. What Andreas did that day and why, whether he was ill, had PTSD, suffered from a dissociative state, or indeed was faking the whole thing, is still unknown publicly, and Andreas has chosen to remain silent to the press ever since.
What started with a memory of the events 10 years ago has led to AllthePigs Theatre Company writing a play which looks at the whole story, the Piano Man himself, the hospital staff who tried to help him remember who he was, the journalists who helped stir up intrigue and create the mystery, and ultimately turn on him when his true identity became known. Director Sam Carrack says: “Although The Piano Mantells a version of Andreas’ story ten years ago, at its heart is a tale about the very human desire for the super-human, and the lengths people go to do make them true.”
Rather than try and uncover in minute detail what happened then and risk ‘digging up the past’ AllthePigs set about learning and understanding what would happen if it all happened now by speaking to neurologists, psychologists, home-help nurses, the police and journalists amongst many others to gather as much of an insight into the protocol, treatment and help that a modern-day Andreas might receive. This primary research was combined with research taken from internet blogs, printed articles and different press archives, to create their own characters to tell Andreas’ story as well as those who surrounded him. Although many of the facts reported in the show are true, the characters are entirely fictional. The Piano Man is a play about identity and that is something we wanted to remain respectful of when referencing and portraying real human beings.
The Piano Man is touring to the Salisbury Playhouse as part of the Theatre West Fest (Friday 10th April), Upstairs at the Western, Leicester (Saturday 18th April), and The Marlowe Studio, Canterbury (Thursday 7th May) before heading to the Brighton Fringe Festival (Friday 22nd – Monday 25th May.
Thursday 26th March 2015