Horse Country

C J Hopkins
Riverside Studios
(2003)

Horse Country won the supreme accolade at the 2002 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. It was selected as the Scotsman's First Of The Firsts, following Gregory Burke's Gagarin Way in the inaugural year of the award. In addition, it won three further awards, making it probably the biggest hit of Edinburgh 2002.

It has now ventured down to London together with its companion piece, The Complete Lost Works of Samuel Beckett...... This is appropriate as Horse Country is a piece that is in many ways similar to the work of that eponymous hero.

Under the direction of John Clancy, David Calvitto and Ben Schneider assail the audience with streams of words for an energetic 75 minutes. They are pair of youngish, unshaven Americans dressed in dark suits with lowered ties. They drink Jack Daniels like water and seem to have come from a play or film by Neil LaBute.

To make things interesting, much of their talk is nonsensical. Eventually, it becomes apparent that the words that they use do not necessarily convey normal meanings. In this way, Horse Country is similar to Caryl Churchill's Blue Heart. Whether the discussion is about horses or children or, in fact whether the two are interchangeable, is unimportant in the overall scheme of things. While the talk may be of Columbus discovering America or a missing nine of diamonds, the underlying meanings are much deeper.

The performances are amazing with Calvitto as Bob using facial expressions reminiscent of a grey-haired Rowan Atkinson as Mr Bean, while the wilder Sam (Schneider) could have escaped from a mental ward.

The attractions of the production are as much to do with the performances and slick direction as the subject matter up to a point. That point is when it becomes apparent that the subject that they are really talking about is the eternal one of the nature of freedom and the meaning of life itself. While this may be addressed in oblique ways and a jocular fashion, it is a serious matter and Hopkins' style prevents it from becoming fusty and boring and forces its audience to think afresh.

Whether this piece was actually the very best that Edinburgh could offer last year may be open to question but it is certainly up there with the finest of the contenders.

Reviewer: Philip Fisher