61: Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness

21 May

Anthony Neilson’s play is a marvel. Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness is wonder-full, fantastic (in the literal sense), grotesque and hilarious. When I first read the play I gasped out loud, laughed often and longed to see it on stage. Two nights ago I had that opportunity thanks to La Boite and Sydney Theatre Company.

Emily Tomlins in Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness

Emily Tomlins in Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness. Photo by Al Caeiro.

I loved the performance and reviewed it here, but I actually got more out of my first read of the play than I did it out of the production. So, today, I decided to read the play again to see if it still held as much magic for me. The good news is that it does.

GANT: […] what I bring you now is no mere freak show. You will gasp, yes, and you will marvel and you will see your share of grotesquerie. But the deformities on show this evening are not the deformities of the frame, but those of the heart and mind.

I have scoured every continent to find these most astonishing testaments. Alas, I cannot put before you the subjects themselves, but I will – with the help of my players – attempt to represent their tales to you as truly as time and talent will allow.

So without further ado, I present for your astonishment the Extraordinary! The Terrible! The AMAZING FEATS OF LONELINESS!

This is a play about a travelling show, led by impresario Edward Gant. It’s 1881 and the troupe of four have set up camp in Plymouth to present their show. There’s plenty of school boy humour, digs at the Catholic church: “my skin has grown taut as the breeches of a priest at choir practice”, and some wonderfully self-referential comments about theatre.

LUDD: […] These people want to see real life as it is lived, not the opium-filled fantasies of an egotist! And if we do not give what they seek, they will turn away from the theatre and who will remain to play to? The rich and the idle, and that is all!

GANT: Don’t forget the critics. Whose ranks it seems you have joined. […] You have that rare ability to misinterpret a man’s aims and then hound him for not achieving them.

There’s the marvellous Phantom of the Dry, who appears to actors whose lines have escaped them. “I live a whole lifetime in those yawning seconds of helplessness and pass, like a butterfly, when they end!”

I adore the heightened theatricality of this play: the fact that it is a play about doing a play, that the players are players, and that they do discuss theatre, along with life, politics (“despite the Liberal Government, I made the decision to go on with life”) and bodily functions. It’s frequently crass (“why is my mouth as dry as a suffragette’s chuff?”) but also filled with little insights: “The truth of life lies least of all in the facts.”

For me, one of the things that makes this play so special is that it could only work in the theatre. This is its perfect medium. It is entertaining from start to finish, without a patch of dullness or cliche. I read an article by Anthony Neilson written a year before Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness was first produced where he decries dull theatre and it seems that he’s taken his own notes on board to great effect.

Long live theatre that amazes, astounds, engages and entertains.

Publisher: Metheun Drama

Cast: 3M, 1F

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