O2 Arena

Horses are frequently seen on television and in film and often in major roles. They used to appear in plays, too. The Victorians loved equestrian dramas. In 1856 the key role in a production of Shakespeare’s Richard III was played by the horse. I am not making this up. Audiences came to see what was billed as The Death of White Surrey. The production ran for 90 performances.

Over the last nine years, Apassionata, the horse spectacular, has been seen by 5 million people in 40 cities across Europe. The company, based in Germany, returned to London for the second year running for a one day two performances stint.

There are snowy-white mares and their foals from the Camargue in the South of France; thoroughbred stallions from Lusitano; Freisian horses from the Netherlands; Andalusian horses from Spain, Shetland ponies, and even a donkey.

There is no drama. There is just the spectacle. An attempt to tell a story is a mistake. Nobody’s listening. There are some breathtaking daredevil stunts on, over and under the horses, from the French riders.

There is no attempt to build to a climax. Apassionata relies on the sheer beauty, nobility and discipline of the horses, the horsemanship of the riders, and the harmony of man and equine. For many that will be enough. The show is aimed at family audiences and is just the thing for grandparents to take the grandchildren to.

Perhaps, with the huge success of War Horse on stage, it is the right moment to revive one of the most popular horse dramas of the 19th century, an adaptation of Lord Byron’s poem, Mazeppa? Premiered in 1863, it starred the notoriously provocative Adah Menken, who was strapped, semi-nude, to a horse. The paintings of Gericault, Delacroix and particularly Vernet give a very good idea of the erotic appeal.

And whilst I’m on the subject of horses, I don’t know about you, but I certainly didn’t think it right that the horse which played Joey in Steven Spielberg’s War Horse should have been taken to the royal premiere and then not taken inside the Odeon cinema to see the film and his fine performance. Houyhnhnms, I have it on good authority, are signing a petition, expressing their disappointment that he wasn’t given the best stalls in the cinema.

Reviewer: Robert Tanitch

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