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 The Theatreguide.London Review


Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness
Soho Theatre Spring 2009

Anthony Neilson's 2002 play, revived now by Headlong Theatre, is a real guilty-pleasure hoot for about three-quarters of its length. And if it falls apart somewhat toward the end, this is still a recommendation.

The show it most resembles, both in style and flavour, is the Shockheaded Peter of several seasons back. Once again we have a mad Victorian compere introducing a string of bizarre tales, once again the eager flirtation with bad taste, once again the in-joke about the low budget and makeshift effects, once again the catch-you-by-surprise flashes of wit and invention.

The Edward Gant of the title is head of a small theatre company offering dramatised stories of lonely people - a woman with grotesque acne whose pimples contain pearls, a man whose attempt to escape the memory of his lost love leads him to some rudimentary brain surgery, a teddy bear with tales of childhood and self abuse.

Acted out by Gant's troupe of three, the tales are far more comic than touching, and if many of the laughs are generated by such yuck-bordering things as pimple-popping and do-it-yourself trepanning, well, that's part of the naughty fun, as are lines like 'Despite the Liberal government I made the decision to go on with life' and 'There's no place in the Catholic Church for the sexual molestation of children . . . so they're building one.'

The script calls for one of the company to rebel at a certain point, break the frame, and change the whole tone of the evening, and that's where it begins to fall apart, because Neilson tries to get a little Serious and Meaningful. There's nothing wrong with serious and meaningful comedy, but those of us who have been enjoying the naughtiness just aren't in the mood for messages, and so the last section is a real come-down.

Simon Kunz takes a little too long reaching the over-the-top wild-eyed madness of Gant, but once he's there he keeps the comic energy level high. Paul Barnhill is versatile as the bolshie actor, Sam Cox droll as a more phlegmatic one, while Emma Handy does yeoman work as essentially straight-man to the others. Director Steve Marmion must get much of the credit for what works and what doesn't.

I could fully understand someone hating this show, both for its over-the-top-ness and its meanders into dubious taste. But I would feel sorry for that someone for missing out on what is - for much of its length - a total dirty delight.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review - Edward Gant - Soho 2009