The penultimate offering from Hatch as part of their neat11 programming exploring cultural identity, this equine double-bill was everything I have come to expect from the Nottingham-based performance organisation – delightfully bonkers and off the wall, while funny, thought-provoking and well executed.
First up were Hunt and Darton with Break Your Own Pony, described as a performance lecture exploring “strong thighs and shovelling horse muck on spoilt children, the wind blowing through your hair as you ride your tamed stallion, My Little Ponies, judges, rosettes, country life, whips, gyrating and saying “she’s a bit Horsey”. The piece certainly shone a light on and deconstructed all of these horsey tropes and themes, though the form was more a series of short scenes than a performance lecture. It got off to a slow start, not helped by an audience that seemed a little unsure of what was happening, but the pace quickly picked up, as did the audience buy-in. There were some very clever moments including a running reminder of the ever-present sexual innuendos and imagery in the horse-world – despite an opening disclaimer that what followed was not about sex; and a deconstructed version of the Rawhide theme tune.
The most successful parts were those that involved the audience – whether shining torches on the pictures of horses on the performers’ jumpers as they shuffled across the stage to create a flick-book like image of a race; or the point at which the more daring members of the audience were encouraged up out of their seats to take part by walking, trotting and jumping around a course on stage, all accompanied by the Black Beauty soundtrack. This was such a playful and joyous theatrical moment, perfectly topped off by rosettes being given to the best participants and everyone else settling for carrots and polo mints, it’s only a shame that it wasn’t the finale. The short video clip of a horsey woman and accompanying word play that followed would have worked earlier on but fell flat after such a funny and interactive scene.
The second performance was Horse by Leentje Van De Cruys. Described as a monologue delivered by a woman wearing only a horse’s head and red shoes who believes she is not only a horse, but a different horse from the one she actually is, Horse sounded like it could so easily end up being an example of really bad performance art. In fact, it was one of the funniest, most engaging and thought-provoking pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long while. Perhaps this was largely due to the fact the character standing on stage, while certainly unusual, was incredibly likeable – charming, witty, intelligent, at times vulnerable, and always incredibly self-aware.
She knew how she appeared and explained in great detail the nature of her predicament – truly believing herself to be an old nag belonging to Don Quixote, despite knowing she was technically a young and spritely foal. Her anecdotes about learning not to piss on the floor of the pub: “people get very shirty”, and the struggle to have a real conversation beyond people’s amazement at a horse that can talk and read were hilarious, but also explored the notions of belonging and identity, and learning to adapt and fit in with a culture that is not your own. Her final thoughts on the true nature of beauty being revealed through love and acceptance were a poignant end to an entertaining and unusual afternoon of theatre.
Break Your Own Pony and Horse were performed at Nottingham Playhouse on Saturday 11th June 2011