Review: Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness – La Boite & Sydney Theatre Company @ The Roundhouse

Images by Al Caeiro

Do you long for subversive comedy and theatre with a capital T? Regret the loss of sensation from our stages? Do you love the freakery of the side-show? If you are not troubled by the sight of  pustular eruptions and blood-letting – indeed, if you find that kind of stuff hilarious – then, ladies and gentlemen, step right this way. Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness by Anthony Neilson for La Boite and Sydney Theatre Company could be just the transgressive tonic needed for jaded theatre palates.

If you are a tad squeamish, never did understand all the fuss over Monty Python or, if you like a nice neat slab of realism all wrapped up at night’s end, then stay away; this one is not for you. If, however, you throw caution to the wind and your curiosity eventually leads you to a seat ringside, be warned. You are going to be whirled away by theatre in full outrageous, imaginative flight in the equivalent of a wild fairground ride. There is no stopping and no retreat once the carnivale capers begin and you are invited via the seductive tones of the mysterious, caped and moustachioed Edward Gant (Paul Bishop) to witness his tales of wonder.

Our host and master of the small troupe introduces his Players: Madame Poulet (Emily Tomlins) ‘Little’ Nicky Ludd (Lindsay Farris) and Sgt Jack Dearlove (Bryan Probets). This lineup of Victorian era fringe-dwellers are to be our tale-tellers for the evening. By the way, buy a programme; their backstories are worth the price alone.

The stories the Players enact are the stuff of melodrama: fantastic, grotesque confections like the tale-tellers themselves – but they are marvellously, awe-fully funny too. There are also hints of ripping yarns, nursery tales and Kipling but I’m not going to spoil a minute of the fun ahead of you by spilling the pearls on this neo-Victorian romp. Trust me though – Tennyson it isn’t.

The play reminded me of a couple of books I had as a child. They were full of oddities and cruelty and I’m not exactly sure how I ended up with them – some aunt or uncle with a dark sense of humour, perhaps. Coles Funny Picture Books contained morality tales and creepy poetry where naughty children are whipped (for heaven’s sake) by machines, and family pets die to save the kids – and, and they were ILLUSTRATED! You just never forget some things! These weird and wonderful books were the stuff of the high Victorian age, and had emerged from the fevered brain of Edward William Cole who set up and ran a huge Book Arcade in marvellous Melbourne in the 1880s. Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness has the same kind of very English (and perverse) 19th century sensibility – laced with dirty bits. Despite all the excesses and the cruelty, at the heart of this fable is romance – a lovely pearl just waiting to be set free. You’ll understand when you see the show.

The production, which is directed by Sarah Goodes in her debut for both companies, is spectacular in the real sense of the word. Costume designs by Romance Was Born are just plain dazzling and the best we’ve seen in town for a long time. However (picky time here) I wish the crew had been a bit more motley and moth-eaten, given they’re a travelling troupe of whimsy tale-peddlers. They look like something from the glitzy Venice Carnivale rather than a down at heel bunch somewhere in Victorian England. Renée Mulder‘s clever set design – a fantastic contraption with a nod to steam-punk – and the lighting design by Damien Cooper mesh beautifully together. It looks terrific.

The four-member acting ensemble are uniformly excellent. I’ve always felt Emily Tomlins had an inner clown just waiting to be let out. This play gives her free rein to play across the comic range from gentle, tragic heroine through outrageous freak to a toy bear abandoned in the nursery. She’s a joy to watch. Bryan Proberts is made for this kind of crazy, physical comedy; he doesn’t miss a beat here, bringing a sureness of touch and an aura of melancholy that reminded me of the great Buster Keaton. Who knew he could also play the trumpet? Newcomer (to Brisbane, anyway) Lindsay Farris has a gift of a role as Ludd – the former boy-actor turned radical. He gets to play some wildly funny characters with gusto. And it is Paul Bishop’s ringmaster figure who prowls the performance space spinning these yarns of lost love and loneliness together. His top-hatted, cloaked Gant is a gentle, sad, pot-bellied magician in stripes and, it turns out, the biggest romantic of all. They’re all in top form.

The cast of characters inhabited by Messrs Probets and Farris and Ms Tomlins is vast. I won’t spoil the delight you will undoubtedly have on introduction, but I will just say that my favourite (probably Neilson’s scariest creation for actors anyway) is the Phantom of the Dry. Once met, never forgotten.

Edward Gant’s Amazing Feats of Loneliness plays its Brisbane Season at The Roundhouse until 12 June. Details on sessions and booking from the company website.

 

Review: Statespeare – Shake & Stir and La Boite Theatre @ The Roundhouse

Images: Al Caeiro

Prologue:

This is not a Shakespeare production. It’s a play about the problem of studying Shakespeare’s plays in high school or, as the programme has it, ‘Studying Shakespeare sucketh.’

Statespeare, written by Nelle Lee with material from a range of Shakespeare’s plays, is all about the relevance of the works for kids who are dragged, often kicking and screaming, to study the plays – or bits of the plays – as the syllabus demands. The premise of Statespeare is that the plays are hard, studying them really doth suck and that people who like Shakespeare are most probably drama nerds or losers. At one of yesterday’s schools’ performances I heard an audible gasp from a few quarters in the audience at a line about Drama not counting for an OP score. There were clearly some Drama geeks (old and young) in the house. PS tell me it isn’t so – about Drama not counting for the OP!

For a good 40 or 50 years now – and probably well before that – Australian school kids have been introduced to the plays in the Shakespeare canon via small, touring companies of actors. I remember the Young Elizabethan Players – the ‘Young Lizzies’ – when I was at high school. They were all serious in black before it became de rigeur in theatre circles, and we duly fell in love with at least one of the young male actors in tights – I think they really did wear tights back then. Then came the famed Grin and Tonic 1.0 (recently 2.0) and now there’s Shake & Stir theatre company. Continue reading “Review: Statespeare – Shake & Stir and La Boite Theatre @ The Roundhouse”

A system made for actors: Nigel Poulton (Interview 14)

Alexander Y. Golovin: Portrait of theatre dire...
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As we chat last week about his latest project, I begin to wonder whether Nigel Poulton’s been working too long with ballet companies; he’s got his current company – the Dead Cargo cast – training at 5.30am during the rehearsal week. Now, that’s intriguing in itself. How has this come about, I wonder.

Nigel is one of Australia’s – and possibly one of the world’s – busiest fight directors for the stage. Recent gigs abroad have taken him to the NYC Ballet, the Metropolitan Opera, the Washington Opera as well as to assignments closer to home like Opera Australia, Circus Oz, MTC, STC, QTC, Belvoir, Kooemba Jdarra and Playbox. For Bell Shakespeare he has been the Company Fight Director since 2003. He’s the past President of the Society of Australian Fight Directors Inc., and a respected, meticulous, and very patient teacher who demands the best of his students. I can attest to this having studied under his direction some years ago. Continue reading “A system made for actors: Nigel Poulton (Interview 14)”

Review: Domestic Violence in the Chatroom – I Love You Bro’ at La Boite Theatre

I’ve often found myself using the caveat about something outrageous from real life … mostly behaviour … you know how it goes, ‘If they put that on stage, no one would believe it!’ Well, someone did. Adam J Cass, in fact. The writer of I Love You Bro‘ La Boite’s latest, directed by David Berthold takes the real-life extraordinary circumstances of a 14 year old from Manchester in the UK who conspired to kill himself.  He and his dupe, an online chat friend ‘MarkyMark’ were eventually arrested and charged with attempted murder and incitement to murder. Yes indeed, an unbelievable (almost) real story and another in the ‘troubled teen’ genre, one that’s absurd, tragic and hints at that bogeyman of the ‘dangerous web.’ I thought in passing as I left the building after the performance that La Boite could quite easily have sub-titled their 2010 season as ‘People behaving crazily at full stretch.’ It’s been one of those years at the Roundhouse so far. Continue reading “Review: Domestic Violence in the Chatroom – I Love You Bro’ at La Boite Theatre”

This week in Queensland Theatre: Oct 12-18 2009

For session dates and times check company websites.  Click on the logo on Greenroom’s homepage to access.

Continuing:

The Year of Magical Thinking: Queensland Theatre Company at QPAC  Closes Saturday
The True Story of Butterfish: Powerhouse
The Dream:
La Boite Theatre Company at the Roundhouse Closes Saturday
As You Like It:
Queensland Shakespeare Ensemble at the Roma Street Parklands
Three Blokes and Their Barbie:
Tropic Sun on tour

Opening:

Lazarus Won’t Get Out of Bed: AS Theatre at !Metro Arts
Cats:
Empire Theatre (Toowoomba)