Theatre Review: And The Horse You Rode In On

Political theatre is at its cheekiest in Told By An Idiot’s multi-story play AND THE HORSE YOU RODE IN ON at the Barbican.

TOLD By An Idiot’s multi-story play about extremism, from the German Bahder-Meinhoff gang to Bugs Bunny, is political theatre at its cheekiest.

It explores a handful of stories – a young woman intent on setting fire to her dog, a reluctant anarchist in charge of a bomb plot, a circus troop held captive by French terrorists, a pair of German extremists planning an explosion in a department store, and a little boy watching a Warner Bros movie about an alien-led bomb attack foiled by carrot-munching cartoon rabbit – and anchors them all around a central setting… that of Grace Brothers Department Store from the well-known 1970s sitcom Are You Being Served. But in this incarnation the walls are covered in severed hands and Mrs Slocombe speaks German (albeit with a Mancunian accent).

So far so weird, but the wackiness doesn’t end there. The show is a hilarious study in organized chaos, with scenes that appear improvised in part and run off in crazy tangents before being reigned in and controlled by the narrators. We are wrenched from story to story, through different eras and countries, with a flagrant disregard for the linear and a playful embracing of the silly.

There is larger-than-life physical comedy, stand-up, mime, inventive DIY sound-effects and ridiculous singing – in short, a whole lot of fun. But in amongst all the daft antics, there are moments of extreme sobriety.


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But in amongst all the daft antics, there are moments of extreme sobriety. When the young lady’s dog is replaced with an actress in a brown spotted costume, doused in petroleum and “set fire” to, her cries for mercy are unendurably poignant.

However, the message is unclear – extremism is silly? A brief glance around the Barbican audience makes one think this is preaching to the converted. Politics aside, And The Horse You Rode In On is theatrically innovative and a jolly good wheeze.

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* Showing at the Barbican in Silk Street, EC2, until Saturday, May 14.

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