Horseplay: Bareback

What the hell is going on?

Horseplay: Bareback

Horseplay: Bareback is a ridiculously absurd late night character comedy extravaganza about sex, intimacy, and afterlife. It's bonkers. Like, genuinely strange. Written and performed by Kathy Maniura and Derek Mitchell, the show's off-beat, slap-and-tickle humour encapsulates the wonderful, unpredictable variety that makes the fringe unique.

From the get-go, we’re introduced to a quirky dressing-up box of surreal encounter with more wigs than a drag queen’s boudoir. The double act clearly have great chemistry, and the drag itself – though the show isn’t strictly a drag show, but more a sketch-style comedy play with a totally nonsensical plot – is confident, heartfelt, with a genuine eye for performance.

The loose through-line of a theatrically-repressed ‘Good Place’, an afterlife in which performance is prohibited, is slapdash. The characters are already out-there (the importance of seeing and being seen is an integral part of the show), so the stakes are less about the story and more located in what’s present on stage. This is where Horseplay comes into its own.

Sending up tics of gender while also taking potshots at celebrity (I cackled at a superb caricature of Timothée Chalamet), the duo's rotating wheel of characters is an absolute hoot. If you’re worrying too much about story beats, you’re missing the point entirely. The show could have abandoned the plot for pure sketch comedy and worked just as well, because the performances are what make it a hit. I don’t know where else I’d enjoy a bonneted vagina-human recite an excruciatingly bad poem.

Perhaps that should be the new measure of success for future fringe shows. Everyone but PRs hates the star system. So how do you rate something that lives entirely in its own world? This is the sort of show reviewers might call a cult hit, which is critics’ code for ‘Great but not for everyone’. I saw Horseplay on a Monday night, with only a handful of people in the venue, while sitting next to a distractingly loud drunk couple, and it still went off (Mitchell doled out put-downs like a consummate professional). Instead of the star system I think we should simply ask, is there a vagina reciting a cringey beat poem? Answer: Yes / No / Sorry, what? And did it make you laugh? Yes / No / Erm, Jack, I’m not sure this is going to work.

Before the finale (I've no idea where the lip-syncing came from), Maniura and Mitchell tell a quick personal story about which character they each identify with most. The most puzzling parts of the show - perhaps the whole thing? - suddenly begin to snap together. It’s a joyful mess that comes from a place of love - and I wonder if it's useless me whacking a rating on it, because the show has the potential to be an unforgettable party of a night out or the most disorientating experience you're ever going to have in a theatre. Sadly, there's nothing in this review that can truly prepare you for what the hell is going on.

Unfortunately my editor tells me I have to use the star system and not the pioneering vagina one for this review, so let’s meet in the middle. I loved it. Horseplay is a scattergun cult comedy packed with surreal humour and the occasional belly laugh. The show is bold, risk-taking and incredibly entertaining. Who cares if none of it makes sense.

Header Image Credit: Skye Baker

Author

Jack Solloway

Jack Solloway Voice team

A writer from the West Midlands living in London. His prose has appeared in Aesthetica Magazine, Review 31, The Times and TLS, among others.

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