Writer: Ian Hallard
Director: Andrew Beckett
Horse-Play, conceived in 2020 by Ian Hallard, provides a camp take on the standard locked-room drama, dressing it up with spandex and sex toys for a night of silly superhero fun.
Butterfly (David Ames) bursts into an evil lair, set to take on his foe Villainor (Matt Lapinskas) who follows closely behind. The hero is quickly overpowered, restrained, and must hope for his partner Stallion (Jake Maskall) to save him. Yet Villainor is armed with a bar of Calgon, Stallion’s only weakness. This could be the tightest situation the crime-fighting duo has ever come up against.
Except this isn’t a high stakes superhero thriller, as is revealed when Villainor leaves the room and the pair revert back to their distinctly British accents.
In reality, Butterfly and Stallion are Tim and Tom, a couple looking to spice up their sex life after 10 years together. Tim is giddy with excitement to act out a fantasy he has held since watching Batman and Robin as a child, and seeing the two men analyse the experience pedantically is hilarious. Everything is going exactly as they hoped; until it very much isn’t.
Horse-Play, as expected with such a premise, is silly, melodramatic and crude, so audiences should certainly attend ready to laugh. Hallard’s script is unbounded in its comedy – a blend of cheap gags and witty one-liners – though there are some sequences which seem foolproof on paper, yet fail to land to their full potential. This could perhaps be audience specific, as those who release groans in response to masturbation references may not be the ideal recipients for punchlines on the topic of ‘watersports’.
In his writer’s note, Hallard references challenging himself to write a play about sex which doesn’t feature sex, and also wanting to tackle the over-used trope of older gay characters being sleazy. These are admirable aims, as queer media can often repeat lazy clichés that we should work to break free from, and he is successful in this mission, although neither of the gay couple is particularly ‘old’. However, the piece then leans on several other harmful stereotypes and ideals, such as the immigrant cleaning lady and ‘people who work out can’t complain about being objectified’. This does offset some of the more considered elements of the play.
The entire cast gives solid performances throughout, although with such a ridiculous script they could afford to push their energy even further, to the limit of naturalism. Additionally, multiple line stumbles threaten the flow of some scenes and a couple of punchlines are lost, however this will be remedied with time.
As Tim, Ames knows how to deliver catty comments with wit and a deliciously dry attitude. He gives a performance which offers the most laugh-out-loud moments yet, due to the judgemental way the character is written, he is not a character you can necessarily root for. Whereas Tom is a complete sweetheart and Maskall captures his unimposing nature well. He offers some of the most genuine moments within the piece as Tom tries to make the most of the dire situation the men find themselves in.
Karl, the alter ego of Villainor, is played brilliantly by Lapinskas and he brings a lot of humour to a man trying to figure out his identity. Whilst his ‘gorgeous body’ is used as somewhat of a prop in the earlier stages of the show, Lapinskas quickly asserts himself as a deep, albeit confused, individual with a lot of heart.
Horse-Play has immense production value and, as set and costume designer, David Shields does an incredible job. Upon entering the auditorium, the stage is a visual delight, a grandiose sex dungeon decorated in great detail, which becomes only more impressive as this farcical drama unfolds. There is also a lot of fun in the bright, bold and cheesy costumes.
As the title suggests, this is a very playful production that asks the audience not to take it too seriously. Endless visual antics played out on a killer set make Horse-Play a very fun production to see.
Runs until 24 September 2022