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And the Horse Your Rode In On

Conceived by Hayley Carmichael and Paul Hunter, created by the company
Told by an Idiot
Barbican Pit
(2011)

And the Horse You Rode In On production photo

And the Horse You Rode In On is one of those conceptual pieces that can be difficult for innocent visitors to decipher. It is a kind of satire or spoof on lots of different, generally lowbrow, artistic forms littered with clues as to what its creators, Told by an Idiot, might have had in mind when they thought it up.

The starting point could be the subtitle "A sequence of serious follies". The folly is easy to spot, the seriousness is rather better hidden.

The 1¾ hour long performance has amongst its other sources the smutty 1970s TV department store comedy Are You Being Served?, the work of Alfred Hitchcock and in particular according to the programme notes, his film Sabotage, Joseph Conrad's The Secret Agent, The Lone Ranger (who along with Silver is the victim of the titular joke), perhaps the film at The Baader-Meinhof Complex and any number of performance-led comedies.

That should give potential viewers at least some idea of what to expect when they enter the Barbican Pit. A meticulously rehearsed cast of five switch around between genres with alacrity in front of a surreal, unsettling, Sophia Clist-designed structure from which hands, fingers and pink wigs emerge.

To the extent that there is a single theme running through the evening, it is that of Conrad's bomb-carrying anarchist, although the bomb carrier's era, identity and gender change almost from scene to scene.

What might easily in other hands be an analysis of what turns a good person into a murderous anarchist or alternatively a vision of how victims' lives are changed by a moment of explosive madness is subverted by the creators into something completely different, to use Monty Python's favourite phrase.

For the most part, And the Horse You Rode In On consists of re-creations of comedy acts, whether delivered by Northern stand-up comedians, the Grace Bros crew (in the early scenes speaking in German but using rich, Northern English accents) or a send-up of a doomed acrobatic team, the surviving members of which are eventually kidnapped and tortured.

Nothing makes much sense and therefore viewers will have to decide whether they wish to try and piece together the diverse sources into a drama or just sit back and make the most of the reproductions of schlocky comedy routines that most of us will by now have long forgotten.

Ray Brown reviewed this production at the West Yorkshire Playhouse

Reviewer: Philip Fisher