Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness, by Anthony Neilson; Hope Mill Theatre, 10 October 2017.
It feels only fair to start with the positives, so that’s what I’ll do. Because People Zoo did do a good job of providing all the elements needed to make up an enjoyable theatrical performance. As is always the case at Hope Mill Theatre, the set was impressive and the space well used. The props were outstanding and the atmosphere effectively created. And although you’ve probably already figured out that there are going to be some less positive comments to come in this review, I want to make it abundantly clear that none of them will be down to the performances of the cast. Because they were great. Moureen Louie was particularly impressive as Madame Poulet and almost all the funniest parts of the production were down to the comic timing of Matthew Gee in his role as Nicholas Ludd. So, actors, you might want to put this review down at this point and bask in the glory of our praise. You deserve it.
But unfortunately, for this reviewer at least, it is the play itself that causes all the problems. In Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness we meet a theatre troupe of 3 actors and one director, Edward Gant. Gant opens the play by telling us that we are going to witness a few separate plays within the play, each of which will tell a tale of isolation that will make the audience squirm with sympathy. To start us off, we witness the story of a girl with pimples that turn into pearls when she squeezes them. And to be fair, this completely absurd tale is probably the highlight of the whole production. There are witty one liners and asides. There are some amusing Italian accents. And, if you need that kind of thing, there is even a character that you might find yourself relating to and feeling sympathy for. And then there’s an interval.
At this point, if you’re anything like me, you might be thinking you were watching a mildly amusing piece of theatre that was likely to begin to make sense at some point in the second half. You might think that things were bound to get better. Unfortunately, they were not. The next tale, based around an Indian man who lives in a cave and puts a cork in your head to get rid of your memories, is nonsensical to the point that it is difficult to sit through. The jokes start to fall very flat and, with no real link to the first part of the play, it becomes difficult to even fathom why you were watching the play in the first place.
And then to the most damaging section of all. After spending over an hour bamboozling the audience with bizarreness and absurdity, which is fine if you like that kind of the thing, out comes Edward Gant to try and explain the idea behind the play to the audience. Apparently it’s something to do with the wonder of bringing people together to watch art for art’s sake and how this then helps us all escape loneliness. Or something along those lines. I don’t know. I had lost the ability to fully grasp things by this point. And surely if any play needs to spend its final act explaining what the point of the play was in the first place, then there is something wrong with the play and that way it is told, no? Or is that just me?
I think it’s fair to say that this play wasn’t for this particular reviewer. But it is a play that has run in various locations since it was first performed in 2002, so there must be something there that appeals to audiences. And something must have made People Zoo pick it, out of all the plays they could have put on. So I’ll leave it up to you to decide whether you listen to me or give it a go, maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised. But I will recommend that you give Hope Mill Theatre and People Zoo a go before I sign off, because they did everything they could to make this a success. It’s just that this material is not for everyone, and it definitely wasn’t for me.