Theatre Review: What Shall We Do With the Cello?

Who loves the cello? Everyone. Everyone loves the cello. Everyone loves the cello because the cello is amazing. It’s the violin’s sexy, bigger brother, without all those horrible screechy scratchy noises that make you want to tear off ears with your bare hands and mail them to Peru. Or so we all thought! If you’re reading this in hope of a charming appraisal of a beautiful cello recital that you could take your significant other to as a touching Valentines Day treat, please God think again. That being said, I thought it was great. Allow me to explain.

What Shall We Do With the Cello? is a low-fi four hander by Matei Visniec, alongside the Romanian Cultural Institute and Atelier Theatre, showing in London this February at the Vault Festival. Four people are waiting in a railway station – we know not why or what for, but presumably it’s a train. It’s like Waiting for Godot, but immediately better because it’s only an hour long. First arrives a tramp figure with a cello, and he has all the classic hallmarks of the clown: the out-turned, shiny shoed feet; the hangdog expression; and the forlorn bowtie. He arrives on stage, starts playing the cello and barely lets up for the next hour.

The three other mysterious commuters arrive. There’s a barefoot but otherwise dapper gentleman holding a pair of brogues (although the tan lines on his feet suggest he has a penchant for sandals), a young woman in a fur collared jacket and pearls, and a man in a trench coat with a very wet newspaper. They sit and wait together, all wondering why the man in the corner is incessantly playing the cello, and how they might get him to stop. And thus unfolds the next hour: three strangers, attempting to convince another stranger to stop playing the cello. And the punchline? He’s playing it really badly. Really, really badly. Like, haunting my dreams badly. It’s strangely compelling! But also horrendous. In a good way! I think.

The scene descends into absurd, farcical, physical comedy chaos. Each stranger has their own descent into total madness as they try to endure the awful cellist, and we are literally moments behind them. After the beautiful silence of a brief respite was broken, I genuinely thought I was going to start shredding my anorak in frustration. The tension in the room was shattered again and again by a comic line, or a well-timed look, and we were brought along on a rollercoaster of frustration and hilarity almost utterly against our will.

It’s the realism amongst the absurdity that really ices my cake; in the Vault Festival with the Waterloo commuter trains rumbling overhead, we really are waiting in a railway station, wondering what we will do with the cello.

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