Where: Inner London
2 April 2009 WOS Rating: Average Reader Rating: Reader Reviews: View and add to our user reviews Anthony Neilson’s spuriously delightful, slightly weird evening of Victorian mystery and magic in a travelling freak show was first seen at the Theatre Royal, Plymouth seven years ago. If it didn’t cross your radar then (as it didn’t mine), this co-production by Headlong and the Nuffield, Southampton, is an almost necessary treat.
The eponymous impresario welcomes us to his strange universe where freakish occurrences are the symptoms of human unhappiness. Gant himself is a bizarre emcee, projected with a leer, a swirl of his cape and a glittering eye by
Simon Kunz, and his stories are enacted by the upright, slightly dazed Sam Cox as Jack Dearlove, the face-pulling Emma Handy as clucking Madame Poulet, and the powerfully resentful Paul Barnhill as the disillusioned Nicholas Ludd.
The travelling show is on the skids, but not before we have the full flourish of footlights and plush curtains, one-dimensional scenery, spooky stories, strange effects and a mutiny on the stage when actors dress up in bearskins and turn hostile as Gant tries to stop the wheels falling off in a last ditch impersonation of the line-hogging Phantom of the Dry.
Neilson is testing his own partiality for the weird and wonderful against a traditional setting, and the result is an unusually rich and lip-smacking relish in old-style magic and mystery. How odd, for instance, is the Italian girl covered in facial pustules that, when squeezed, yield precious pearls; or the bereaved lover who allows a fake fakir to drill his head and stop it up with a piece of burnt cork?
Steve Marmion’s production, beautifully designed by Tom Scutt and cunningly lit by Malcolm Rippeth, is full of bravura and unusual visual gags, not to mention the bizarre, slightly repellent spurts of blood and pus decorating the stage and soldierly heroism at the Charge of the Light Brigade, survived some years earlier by Gant and Dearlove.
The show is an unexpected treat in itself but also an invaluable reminder of Neilson’s increasingly impressive back catalogue.
- Michael Coveney
Subscribe to our free newsletter
Featured Editor's Picks
: The economic impact of Arts & Culture in the UK Infographic When Culture Secretary Maria Miller called for the arts to make their "economic case" for subsidy, t... Plays Cast: Harry Potter star in Southwark Moment, more for Branagh's Macbeth Bonnie Wright, best known for playing Ginny Weasley in the Harry Potter films, will make her stage d... Brief Encounter with ... The Kite Runner's Ben Turner Ben Turner stars in the stage version of the bestselling book The Kite Runner, which runs at Liverpo... Titus Andronicus (RSC) This latest production of Shakespeare's Titus Andronicus, to borrow from football punditry, is a p... : Britain's outdoor theatres Take Five With half-term approaching, the weather (hopefully) set to improve for the bank holiday weekend and ... West End Live returns to Trafalgar Square next month West End Live, a weekend of free entertainment from top London shows, will return to Trafalgar Squar... : 'I carry the ghost of Gregory Peck on my shoulders' Robert Sean Leonard Actor Robert Sean Leonard is currently playing Atticus Finch in Timothy Sheader's production of To K... To Kill A Mockingbird Twenty years ago, a young Robert Sean Leonard appeared on the London stage with Alan Alda in... X Factor musical titled I Can't Sing!, opens Palladium March 2014 The forthcoming X Factor musical will be called I Can't Sing! The Musical and will premiere at the L... Donmar stages Nick Payne premiere, Wesker's Roots & Tom Hiddleston in Coriolanus The Donmar Warehouse has announced its new season, which features the premiere of Nick Payne's new p...