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A CurtainUp London London Review
Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness

Ladies and gentlemen . . . what I bring you 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.— Edward Gant
Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness
Simon Kunz as Edward Gant, Emma Handy as Madame Poulet as Sanzonetta Tutti and Paul Barnhill as Nicholas Ludd as Campanetti Tutti
(Photo: Ellie Kurtzz)
Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness finishes its tour at the Soho theatre in London. First produced in 2002 Anthony Neilson's play is based on a bizarre 1881 Victorian freak show where the stories of these remarkable human beings are acted out by Edward Gant's cast of three actors. Behind the production, and in conjunction with the Nuffield Theatre Southampton, is Headlong the theatre company headed by Rupert Goold with his colleague Steve Marmion directing.

Like some of Neilson's more recent work, Edward Gant starts spectacularly but finishes with a whimper. The setting is perfect: a wooden Victorian proscenium arch with wonderful decorated writing and ornate carved extremities, mysterious heavy curtains covering two doors either side of the stage for entrances and exits. Simon Kunz is Edward Gant, the top hatted, caped and moustached Master of Ceremonies, who will also pop up in a few bit roles in his amazing tales.

Three other actors form his troupe. Madame Poulet (Emma Handy) so called for her previous stage career when she simulated the ability to lay an egg, "Little" Nicky Ludd (Paul Barnhill) a child star known for his impersonation of a Highland Lassie and a survivor, alongside Edward Gant, of the Charge of the Light Brigade, Sgt Jack Dearlove (Sam Cox) whose continued devotion to Edward Gant dates back to the days of a previous entertainment, Edward Gant's Midget Opera. These précised notes from the script give you an idea of the style of the evening.

The first story is truly remarkable: about two sisters one of whom Sanzonetta Tutti, (Madame Poulet) is cursed with frightening acne and the other of whom, Campanetti Tutti (Nicholas Ludd) is truly lovely to look at. Salvatore Avaricci (Jack Dearlove) is their suitor, first of Sanzonetta then of Campanetti. However Avaricci being a great collector of pearls is persuaded to change his affection to Sanzonetta when he discovers, despite her hideous complexion, that she produces from each chawb or zit crater, a perfect pearl. Avaricci as a pearl collector falls for this jewel of a sister. The denouement is not for the faint hearted and now I fully understand why Rupert Goold was advising friends in the audience to sit as far back as possible!

The second tale goes to Nepal to the mysteries of the Himalayas and involves an opium den and a gentlemen's club in Rangoon and is the tragic romance of Edgar Thomas Dawn (Jack Dearlove) and his sweetheart Louisa Von Kettelmein-Kurstein Frond (Madame Poulet). The final tale of theatrical touring teddy bears made me wish I had had several stiff drinks before the commencement of this showcase.

Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness is mostly great fun for those of an indelicate disposition and is sure to frighten the ladies and the horses. The staging is very effective as the grossest close up display of facial acne ripe with cheese pops out of apertures at the side of the stage. You have been warned!

Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness
As transcribed by Mr Anthony Neilson
For the illustrious Theatre Royal Plymouth
This Year of Our Lord 1881

Written by Anthony Neilson
Directed by Steve Marmion

With: Paul Barnhill, Emma Handy, Sam Cox, Simon Kunz
Design: Tom Scutt
Lighting: Malcolm Rippeth
Composer and Sound: Tom Mills
Running time: One hour 40 minutes with no interval
Box Office: 0870 429 6883
Booking to 11th April 2009
Reviewed by Lizzie Loveridge based on 1st April performance at the Soho Theatre, Dean Street, London W1(Tube: Tottenham Court Road)

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