Written by Ian Sinclair, Directed by Tait de Lorenzo, by Kunst productions
Review by Charlotte Smee
An Australian interpretation of the 1969 American film They Shoot Horses, Don’t They?, HORSES follows six desperate individuals trying to outlast each other in a dance marathon run by the opportunistic and ever cheerful MC Rocky. This version is deliberately funny – leaning into the twisted comedy of a bunch of people trying to dance until they drop, and the lengths that they’ll go to when nothing is more important than the prize money at the end.
It’s easy to draw parallels between this nearly 100-year-old competition and reality shows of today, with design, sound and direction creating an eerie modernity. Right from the beginning, the actors are sprawled across the stage waiting for sign up to start. Production design by Cris Baldwin and sound by Zac Saric gives the look and feel of a video game, with white and green arches akin to an amusement pier, a decidedly digital scoreboard hanging above centre stage and electro swing-like sound. Lighting by Benjamin Brockman continues the surreal feel, with darkened rest breaks and stark white spotlights brightening the competitors in their tighty whiteys. One of my favourite moments was the very beginning, when more green scaffolding clicked into the existing structure – the “entertainment” locking themselves into their arena for our enjoyment.
Charlotte Otton and Nathaniel Langworthy as the more polished competitors, songstress and not-quite-real sailor, brought a larger-than-life presence, great comedic timing and sparkling voices when they took to the microphone as Rocky. Caitlin Doyle-Markwick and her friend/husband Tom Dawson were gruff, seasoned dance-marathoners, who brought real moments of tenderness and determination. Doyle-Markwick carrying Dawson after his dance-induced breakdown was heartbreaking to watch. Justin Amankwah and Bronte Sparrow as two strangers who couple up, split and then reunite for the entertainment value – or at the behest of Rocky? – brought their own brand of gritty tragedy, a great foil to the comedic chops of the rest of the ensemble.
Movement in HORSES was a twisted pleasure to experience – the derbies that kicked out weaker couples meant scrambling on the floor and hours and hours of dancing meant sweaty, slumped postures. What could have easily become repetitive was guided by Tait de Lorenzo and movement coach Nigel Poulton to become animalistic, varied and almost painful viewing. The only weaknesses in this piece were that some details were overlooked, a small complaint for an otherwise well executed concept with a very talented cast.
Eerie, glittery and uncomfortable viewing – HORSES is reality TV that spits right into your face after you’re done laughing at it.
HORSES plays at the Belvoir Downstairs Theatre until 25 June. Find tickets here.
Find the rest of June’s Cheap Thrills right here!
Images by Rob Catto
CAST AND CREATIVES
Director Tait De Lorenzo
Writer Ian Sinclair
Rob Justin Amankwah
James Tom Dawson
Ruby Caitlin Doyle-Markwick
Vee Nathaniel Langworthy
Jacqui Charlotte Otton
Glory Brontë Sparrow
Producer Zoë Hollyoak
Set & Costume Designer Cris Baldwin
Sound Designer Zac Saric
Lighting Designer Ben Brockman
Lighting Associate Jasmine Duff
Vocal Coach Sarah Chalmers
Movement Coach Nigel Poulton
Stage Manager Sybilla Wajon
Video Content Creator Susie Henderson
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