Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness - West Yorkshire Playhouse

Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness by Anthony Neilson
Director: Steve Marmion
Reviewer: Agnes Frimston

Anyone fancy a Victorian travelling show? Run by the opium-addled Edward Gant, this set of showmen perform pun-laden stories about Sanzonetta, the acne afflicted lovely who’s pimples produce pearls; Edgar the lovesick gent in mourning for his lost Louisa driven to an Indian fakir with unorthodox cures; and the actor who dries on stage, and is transported to the world of oversized stuffed toys.

And what a jolly romp it was. I rarely laugh out loud in the theatre, but I did throughout this performance. The cast were fantastic; Emma Handy , Paul Barnhill, Sam Cox and especially Simon Kunz as Edward Gant held this rather mad production together, and made completely ridiculous scenarios and outfits wonderful. Tom Scutt’s set and costumes were brilliant, and the use of puppetry spectacular. I’m going to hedge my bets and say that this must be the first production to represent pimples with puppetry. There were giant teddy bears, a man (sorry, woman) sized oyster, and a bit of cross-dressing thrown in for the mix. If it sounds like a Pythonesque mish-mash, it was, but somehow it worked. We all need a bit of fantasy in our lives, and this production certainly gives us 90 minutes of that.

And yet it’s not all japes. ‘Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness’ is a rather specific take on the Victorian freak show. As Gant himself says at the start, “the deformities on show this evening are not those of the frame, but those of the heart and mind”, and like all freak shows, there is the unsettling stench of exploitation, just not of the physical. A question the audience is left asking is whether the emotional exploitation is worse. Writer Anthony Neilson lures the audience in with his comic tales, vomit jokes, and puns (and who doesn’t love a good pun), and then brutally reveals his examination of the imagination and the trials of the human heart. Throughout, this is a play self-conscious of being a narrative and a performance, but by the end, the audience is asked to question the role of theatre itself – do we go for whimsy and escapism, or reality and fact?

This production is fantastically crafted; the sets and costumes are a twist of the pop-up book twee and the repulsive; and the puppetry imaginative and hilarious. The script is odd, but the superb cast ground it and make the performance enjoyable, if a little painfully grotesque at times. I was left with questions about what I expect from theatre, and a nightmare involving a ridiculously enormous zit…

Photos: Ellie Kurttz
Edward Gant runs at the WYP until Saturday 14th March 2009
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