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Edward Gant's Amazing Feats of Loneliness

La Boite’s 2011 season is certainly shaping up to be a very strong set of productions, each of them bringing something very different to the audience. In this respect alone, Artistic Director David Berthold is to be congratulated for the choices made. Their latest production, Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness, is one that firmly places the audience into an emotional zone where you’re entirely sure if you should be laughing, or crying, or feeling repulsed at what has just occurred on stage. The show swings wildly about, from concept to concept, that it feels more like a compressed version of a season of The Mighty Boosh or The League of Gentlemen than a traditional theatrical production examining the themes of sadness and the loss that lives in all of us. And so while it isn’t a completely successful production because of this sheer variety, full marks for giving it a go.

Originally performed at the Drum Theatre in Plymouth in 2002, the British origins of Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness is a badge the show wears with pride. You can always count on the Brits to offer us a beautiful and poignant set of stories that examine some deep issues within society, but in such a way that is highly amusing and confronting. What you essentially get with Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness is a set of four short stories in one, and it’s through this style that the show hits its first home run. Each story we’re presented with is a dark morality tale, a style of narrative that is as old as humanity itself I guess, in which the central themes of the show are explored in various ways. That it does so through such a grotesque and bizarre set of characters and circumstances is where the comparison to shows like The Mighty Boosh do come through most.

The production design of the show is something that deserves special mention. As an audience we are presented with a very simple thrust stage which contains all manner of trapdoors and areas for actors to spring out of, and each of the actors does a fine line in absurd and slightly-not-quite-right costuming, all of which reflects the absurd and dark origins of the material. And while some aspects of the show are clearly designed to be amateur in appearance, thus adding to the slapped-together nature of the title character’s travel roadshow, it all works in a kind of kitsch charm that means you never feel overwhelmed by flashy visuals. This allows the content and context of the storyline to shine through, which includes some beautiful moments of characters oozing out pearls from pimples, or someone having brain surgery performed by nothing more than an oversized bottle opener.

Paul Bishop is wonderful casting as Edward Gant himself, which a flair for the theatrical in both voice and movement that so perfectly sums up this showman / con artist. Bryan Probets also deserves a very honourable mention as Jack Dearlove, who certainly does a good line in the creepy. But of all the cast it really has to be Emily Tomlins who either gets the best role, or drew the shortest straw, when it comes to her performance as Madame Poulet. She certainly gets to enjoy the grossest moments of popping pearls out of some very convincing-looking acne gone wrong. Director Sarah Goodes is to be commended for not only assembling this cast, but getting such good work out of them. Kudos also to Set Designer Renee Mulder for some very cool work as well.

If there is one thing I didn’t like about Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness, then it would have to come down to the way in which the show is at times so jarring with the audience that it became too awkward an experience. The ending was highly emblematic of this, with a sudden shock twist in the tale (in itself not a problem) that resulted in an audience without any idea if they should applaud, or get up and leave. The fact that the show just stops, literally dead in its tracks, made for an odd few minutes, but I guess this is what happens when you try to be too clever, and too strange. Theatre needs some basic conventions left intact to ensure a rounded success, and while I applaud La Boite for all that they have achieved with Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness, occasionally a bit of familiarity wouldn’t have been a bad thing.

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