London Fringe 2010 – The Horse – 23-25 August 2010
Speed dating. Some people enjoy it. Some would never do it again. Some have never tried it. Whatever your experience of it, this is one date that you need to keep.
The stage is set with a group of chairs in the centre of the room, put in pairs facing each other. There are various chairs and sofas lining the perimeter of the room and it is an enjoyable task to decipher where to sit. Then it is time to play ‘spot the actor’ as the various characters mingle with the audience.
Most are easy to identify such as a well-spoken woman who sits down and starts to talk very loudly, laughing and hitting her leg with a riding crop. Another woman sits down and turns to ask, in a melodic Australian accent, if one has done this before and how nervous she is. She has little faith in this dating game that she never seems to win. Further characters include a blonde lady wearing very little and speaking quite vacantly. Another character is a man who sits as far as he can from everyone and huddles into the chair, darting mistrusting, nervous looks around the room. It is so exciting and the play has not even started. One character is well disguised and remains elusive until the play begins. She is the character of Michaela. She is a woman of little words but many disapproving looks.
Each person had been given a number as they entered and now numbers are called for ‘daters’ to take their places and start on their speed date with the characters and others. What? No preparation and forewarning of the participatory nature of the play? No time to concoct a wonderful story about your life and career to sell yourself in the best possible way in sixty seconds? No way.
Susie, the host of the dating event, and all round lovely lady, introduces it all and gets us started. We are given pencils and scorecards to rank each date and write comments after. Here is the speed date for you. Each character in (about) sixty seconds:
Ricardo: his profile picture would show a handsome man in a suit, dark brown hair and facial hair. He is smiling knowingly and staring into your eyes with a certain charm. He looks like he wants to love you and everyone else too. The date: he has a sweet Spanish accent and loves the ladies. He kisses your hand and can make a lady feel quite flustered. Favourite sayings include “Do you know the body has 256 bones?” with the reply of “Would you like one more?”
Tillly: her profile picture would show a pretty woman with long brown hair, smiling a wide smile with a flick of the eyebrow that says “Hey, you. Hey. You like horses eh? I do! Haw haw haw haw.” She has on tweed and a firm grip of a riding crop that she keeps handy. The date: she is a feisty lady with a fun personality. Horses are her life and she can dance on a chair with her riding crop in an hilariously unique way that has to be seen.
Lydia: her profile picture would show a pretty woman with long blonde hair. She has a sweet small smile and the hint of something not quite right in her eye. Her ‘Little House on the Prairie’ farm girl dress should not fool you as she harbours some hidden emotion about dating that you may not want to mess with. The date: she has a harmonic Australian accent and is friendly. She acts like butter would not melt in her mouth but when a female dater hones in on a man she is interested in, that butter has boiled and turned to caramel. She wants a man to take her to the other side of the world. Definition – he must want to live in Australia with her.
Nigel: his profile picture would show a handsome man with hair with so much gel in that it looks greasy, combed over to one side. He is wearing glasses and not smiling. He is dressed all in greys, creams and browns and has glanced up from his usual position of staring at the floor. The date: he is awkward to perfection. He talks from a hunched, self-conscious sitting or standing position and never looks at you much. That, or he looks at you too much, and you can no longer tell who is supposed to be uncomfortable here. He tells you his mum made him come to the speed-dating event and he does not want to be here. He likes Xbox. He is the most interesting of all.
Michaela: her profile picture would show a pretty woman with dark hair fashioned in a 1920’s hairstyle, red lipstick and a cunning side smile. She sits with a straight back and looks at you with a smile that hides the fact that she thinks you are a reprobate. Do not worry. The lies in her eyes and disdainful glares will be back once she catches you catching a glimpse of her secret. She has few words but scans each and every person with minute detail. She does not like to help, does not like to exhaust much energy but really wants a date with a certain charming man.
Kimbaly: her profile picture would show a pretty blonde woman smiling a smile that lights up her whole face. Her head is cocked to the side and she is a little puzzled as to why she is smiling and what it is for. However, she knows she is happy about something anyway. She wears lots of gold jewellery and pink and tight clothing. The date: she flits around clicking her high heels and trying to stay balanced. Pouting and leaning forwards are her special moves. She walks around like the place is a mirror and it is looking at her from all sides. She likes this admiration and gets annoyed if the mirror is not looking and taking notice of another. She is sweet and sometimes innocent.
Susie: the hostess with the mostest. She does not do the dating herself but she does offer her body for use after the event is over. Her profile picture would show a pretty woman with bright copper hair. She is smiling madly holding a butterfly hairclip in one hand and a whistle in the other. The butterfly clip is the ‘Butterfly of Beauty’, which she uses to land only on beautiful people in the room with humorous consequences. The whistle is to keep tight control on the timings, the daters and every little aspect of everything going on.
The actors are all superb. Bobby Coello plays Ricardo brilliantly. He is charming, funny and very naughty in his pick-up lines. He is fascinating to watch. He stays in character even when faced with a rude line proposed back to him, even though there is a hint of a smile just from him and not his character. He delivers the lines so seriously and sincerely like Ricardo truly believes that this is the way to get women. He kisses the hand holding it firmly but affectionately and brings it to his mouth slowly as he looks up into the eyes of the receiver. He has a confidence that exudes a sensual allure. He plays each woman with the same lines and gets frustrated when he messes up his words. Bobby Coello becomes Ricardo expertly.
Rachel Copsey is wonderful as Tilly. She plays the woman who loves horses and laughs like one too. It is applaudable that Rachel Copsey is able to keep up the accent and energy throughout the play. She is humorous and engaging. She slowly allows Tilly to unravel in various ways. She loosens in her manner, loosens her hair and loosens her body. Rachel Copsy performs an inventive routine on a chair whilst eating and smothering herself in a thick red liquid and using her riding crop. It has to be seen. The use of the riding crop on others is funny to watch too.
Sasha Delaney is so cunning and sweet as Lydia. You get the sense that something does not quite fit her ‘sweeter than honey’ demeanour. She says the right things and laughs at the right times initially but the threat of people stepping on her territory brings out the real Lydia. Sasha Delaney uses a skilful Australian accent for Lydia. It has an interesting musical twang to it. She cleverly puts her head to the side or smiles a certain way or offers to help, to project a certain image of herself. It is amusing to see her switch to real Lydia and get in a fight with Tilly.
Hester Kent is splendid as Susie. She is the host that everyone would like to meet but not get to know beyond the event. She releases bursts of madness now and again and plays it like a hospital matron in a Carry On film at times. Hester Kent’s action of using the ‘Butterfly of Beauty’ was hilarious to watch. She moves around flitting about like it is a real butterfly rejecting the bad flowers. She ensures everyone is having a good time but yearns for some love of her own. It is a nice contrast to experience.
Jeremiah O’Connor is wonderful as Nigel. He plays him so well and completely takes on the persona of Nigel. He shies away from people, looks at them accusingly and with terror also. He does not trust them but is scared of having to talk to them. He is the most interesting speed date. While watching the play, the focus kept going back to him. There was the contemplation of what he was thinking and feeling. There are so many levels to Nigel. He likes his mum. He likes playing his Xbox in his spare time. He is lovely. Take him home and help him get him confident enough to go out in public with you.
Charlotte Tallack is striking as Michaela. She plays her as a sophisticated lady who knows what she wants. She wants a man. She does not want to have to work hard for him. She wants to judge everyone around her and is happy doing so. She walks tall and confidently. Charlotte Tallack is funny as Michaela. There is a moment when all the daters are clearing away the chairs and other items. She looks at a chair with disgust and makes a humorous and feeble attempt at helping. She pushes the chair to the side with a sharp push that moves it only a little. This simple action is great.
Naomi Todd is skilful as Kimbaly. Initially it is hard to see where her character is going or if she is developing. Then there is a beautiful point in which she states what physical harm she would do to Susie if she said what she thought she had said. It is funny and switches Kimbaly from an immature and unthinking woman into a capable woman. One who has maturity and knowledge but chooses rather to just be herself, be nice and be all cookies and cream. Naomi Todd performs two outstanding dance routines in the manner of Kimbaly. One routine is Beyonce’s ‘Single Ladies’. Every move is perfect but they have the Kimbaly edge to them so the pouting forward leaning flicks are thick and fast and enhance the performance.
Matthew Parker has directed this play with skill, humour and originality. It is a great and different concept and a fun participatory experience. Theatre like this needs to continue. Each character is well developed and has their own signature. They work well individually and collectively. The speed-dating event is wonderful. The after party is wonderful. It is all wonderful. The lighting complements the action and the set has just the right amount of interest in it not to detract from the actors.
Catherine Gerrard has assistant directed this play skilfully also. She was part of the play behind the bar helping with various aspects of it. It seems like the whole process has been an enjoyable experience with a lot of laughter.
Laura Harling is astute to have taken this play and produced it. It would be good if this play could be put on in a bigger venue for even more people to see and enjoy. It is something to go home and tell your friends about. Everyone involved deserves another round of applause.
There you have it. Speed dating done. Tick. The first half of the play is a funny account of the highs and lows of speed dating and the people you could meet and be forced to spend time with. The audience is relieved not to be involved for the whole event as they conveniently get voted off for not getting enough points to go through to the next round. Phew. The second half further delves into the dating game and the characters and a post-speed-date party. There is dancing and some truly amazing dance routines that must have taken a while to perfect. There are some interesting moments in the play when the lights go down and the spotlight is on one character and they do a speech and a performance to further reveal aspects of their character and tell their story. Then the action goes back to normal as if it never happened. A beautifully directed montage of dancing by all the characters also occurs, done to the music of ‘Love is a Battlefield’ by Pat Benatar. There are a set of movements each character completes amidst one another and then the whole thing repeats with subtle changes and increasing intensity. It is mesmerising to watch.
The whole play is brilliant. There is plenty of fun and laughter throughout. If all speed dating involves this much humour, intrigue and dance routines, more people should definitely try it. If not for the experience of laughing until you cry, then purely for the pleasure of meeting Ricardo, Tilly, Lydia, Susie, Nigel, Michaela and Kimbaly.
Cast Credits: Bobby Coello – Ricardo. Rachel Copsey – Tilly. Sasha Delaney – Lydia. Hester Kent – Susie. Jeremiah O’Connor – Nigel. Charlotte Tallack – Michaela. Naomi Todd – Kimbaly.
Company Credits: Director – Matthew Parker. Assistant Director – Catherine Gerrard. Producer – Laura Harling.
© Chantal Pierre-Packer 2010
Reviewed Tuesday 24 August 2010