Hope Mill Theatre; Saturday 14th October 2017
“Humans are unique among the creatures of the Earth in that we all know that we will one day die. This single fact means that we are the loneliest creatures in this world.”
So says Edward Gant – a mysterious 19th century showman sporting a fine walking stick and top hat. The opening scene is an extravagant and flamboyant spectacle: Gant promises to deliver a freak show with a difference, this time, he says, the deformities will be of the heart and the mind.
And so begin two absurdly preposterous tales of love, laughter and loneliness. Gant’s stories are so far-fetched (and so well performed by the cast) that they instantly exude a romantically Victorian appeal, a bit like H.G. Wells’ classic novel The Time Machine – a product of the same era as Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness and equally as daft-yet-lovable.
First there is the bizarre saga of the pizza-faced pearl-popper who’s dumped for an oyster; then comes the equally daft tale of how a death by bee sting leads to the search for a mystical Himalayan fakir with the ability to make men forget that which troubles them.
It’s all so completely over the top that it’s incredibly charming and easy to follow, helped along by the fact that some of the jokes are seriously funny, they may border on the obscene but they are still very, very funny – not just your normal theatrical titillation but more like the x-rated filth you’d expect to hear in a grimy stand-up comedy show.
Things take a very strange turn towards the end. What had been progressing nicely as a titillating Victorian freak show suddenly comes grinding to a halt as Gant’s cast forget their lines and stage a mutiny. Eventually Gant has to return to the stage to explain himself, but in doing so he reveals a shocking secret, one which seems to explain the peculiar nonsense of his two stories.
Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness is a wild comedy with a very dark and tragic twist. With a cast of just four, the production team at People Zoo have created a show that feels both comfortable and familiar; yet is also so different, particularly the manner in which the audience is led down the path of a feel-good comedy before being quickly dumped into an altogether darker place. Gant, in the end, delivered exactly what he said he would.