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Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness

Citizens Theatre, Glasgow
4 stars
‘Prodigy! Soldier! Traveller! Poet! But always and ever a Showman!’ So goes the self-deifying legend of Edward Gant, MC of the travelling freak-show in Anthony Neilson’s increasingly dark 2002 pastiche of the Good Old Days era. With his troupe of players, Gant regales us with increasingly fantastical yarns. The first is of a pizza-faced woman whose burst pimples become the rarest of pearls. We next meet bee-stung Louisa and her jammy rings. Her betrothed is so heart-broken he has an Indian fakir drill a hole in his head to take away the badness in his brain a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The trick, of course, backfires.

Up until that point, saucy, juvenile, cheap and nasty as it is, it’s as if The Mighty Boosh had re-imagined Shockheaded Peter by way of an old Amicus Films horror compendium. Utter hokum, in other words. Following what may possibly be the longest dramatic pause this side of Pinter, however, the play is ripped asunder, so the ‘unique visions’ and ‘terrible truths’ propagated by Gant are laid bare as something more Pirandellian. Through the figure of proto ranting poet Ludd, a debate between his favoured social-realism and the trashily magical populist fantasias of Gant is set up.

This makes for an enthralling Russian doll of a play, which, in Steve Marmion’s touring co-production between Headlong and Southampton’s Nuffield Theatre, gradually unravels a delicious concoction of artifice and truth. With a cast led by Simon Kunz as Gant mesmerising throughout, the normally bottled-up black thoughts that are un-corked may be make-believe, but they go way beyond intimations of harmless fun.

The Herald, March 19th 2009

ends

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