Venue: PACT Centre for Emerging Artists (Erskineville NSW), May 4 – 7, 2016
Playwright: Anthony Neilson
Director: Natasha Pesce
Cast: Ralph Andrews, Will Hickey, Jonathan Lagudi, Nicole Wineberg
Image by Liam O’Keefe
Edward Gant runs a vaudeville specialising in tall tales of loneliness. Even though the theme is one of sadness, his show is full of rambunctious fun, designed to elicit squeals of pleasure with outrageous and flamboyant sequences featuring his troupe of three mad performers. Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness is Anthony Neilson’s take on the “show within a show” format, brilliantly scripted to deliver extraordinary spectacle accompanied by disarming humour and an unrelenting melancholy. It is the most sophisticated of writing, traversing the basest of human experience to the most profound of our emotional landscapes. Subtly philosophical yet undeniably poignant, the audience is offered a plethora of ways to access its meanings, at whichever level of depth we choose to receive its wisdom.
The wild stories are brought to life by Natasha Pesce’s exuberant direction. Her style is exciting, bold and very funny, particularly effective in the production’s first half where the text presents greater opportunities for ostentatious tomfoolery. Pesce’s eye for beauty is reflected in charming design details that provide a visual splendour, delightful for our senses while helping to convey story and sentiments. Four dedicated actors form a tight ensemble, boundless in mischievous energy and unified in what they convey. Nicole Wineberg is a perfect blend of slapstick, nuance and sexual allure for her demanding role. The actor is captivating in all her guises, whether coy, gruesome, rugged, or ludicrously vivacious in a bear suit, Wineberg is completely engrossing and very entertaining indeed. Equally madcap in approach is Ralph Andrews, memorable for his confident frivolity and distinctly wanton sense of comedy. His work is not the most physically disciplined, but the presence he brings to the stage is replete with an enthusiastic whimsy that appeals to our need for something more tender.
In loneliness, longing is the ringmaster who takes centre stage, controlling thoughts, decisions and behaviour. It is a driving force that can lead one to many possibilities, but its motive is self-obliteration. Longing may replace loneliness with some other sensation, but desire will always remain albeit in a different form, for life simply cannot be without desire. Edward Gant faces a dilemma with the eradication of his own loneliness and the show that must go on. Joy can take the place of pain, but it only exists in relation to its dark other. The pursuit of a happy life is meaningless without sadness, and the resolve of its existence is to be ignored at our own peril.