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  • Chris O'Rourke

Horse Play

Jarlath Tivnan and Sean Basil Crawford in Eva O'Connor's Horse Play. Image by Sthiti Padhy


With her one woman masterpiece Mustard, writer and performer Eva O’Connor established herself as a daring new writer. With her latest work, Horse Play, currently premiering at Glass Mask Theatre, O'Connor cements that reputation. A horse of a different colour, O’Connor’s two hander, and one disembodied voice, follows ex-jockey Ciarán and his missing horse King as they set about remembering the past as it really was. The abusive loudmouth father, the love of chips and the crippling bulimia, being knighted on The Late Late Show as Ireland’s Holy Child, and what really happened the night King disappeared. All serving as a through-line on which to hang some serious investigations into redemption and relationships. Made viscerally vivid by an outstanding performance. So stunningly good it could knock the socks off a horse.

Enjoy horse puns and analogies? O’Connor’s taut script has a stable full, each one a million times smarter than stable full. Though they do take a second to arrive. The initial intro suggesting a more conservative piece as a former jockey visits his ailing father who suffers from dementia. One heart attack and an out of body experience later and Equus meets It’s A Wonderful Life, or A Christmas Carol, as a trashy gameshow horse plays spin the wheel with his former jockey with whom he was once intimately connected. Each colour on the wheel serving up a fresh memory with which to explore their relationship. Even as not all memories are welcomed, even if all are necessary to be faced.

Jarlath Tivnan in Eva O'Connor's Horse Play. Image by Sthiti Padhy

If the game show device seems a simple approach, it’s richly enhanced by exquisitely executed sound cues by an uncredited designer. Which, along with RC Bates’s lights and Kathyann Murphy’s costumes helps enliven the experience. Jarlath Tivnan’s King, all gold glittering jacket and farmer boots, rocking up against Sean Basil Crawford’s photocopied Ciarán, resembling an instantly forgettable face in the crowd. Under Dominic O’Brien’s direction, Crawford’s straight man offsetting Tivnan’s funny man proves hugely detrimental to the former. Crawford’s Ciarán, less Oliver Hardy so much as Bud Abbott; a straight face not playing the lines so much as reporting them. Leaving Ciarán not quite finding his mojo, his emotional detachment never quite re-attaching. A striking contrast with a hugely invested Tivnan whose camp, larger than life Mephistopheles styled King is a joy to behold. Regal, rambunctious, ridiculously brilliant, Tivnan's performance shows not just the hallmarks of star quality, but of superstar quality. Like Dr. Frank-n-furter, were he a horse. Indeed, if Tivnan’s King was a diamond, it would be the Kohinoor Diamond. Simply priceless.

Currently, O Connor’s Mustard continues to take the world by storm, recently winning yet another award at The Adelaide Fringe. With its clever script, simple set-up, and crowning performance by Tivnan, Horse Play could very well follow suit. Tivnan delivering the kind of performance you dream of, presented up close and personal in Glass Mask Theatre, making Horse Play thoroughly entertaining and simply irresistible.

Horse Play by Eva O’Connor, presented by Glass Mask Theatre, runs at Glass Mask Theatre until April 1.

For more information, visit Glass Mask Theatre


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