By Christopher Walker
Horse-Play, the new comedy by Ian Hallard at the Riverside Studios, is a well-intentioned window into middle-aged love. It needs a bit more work, but its heart is in the right place.
The Riverside Studios is set on the former site of a Victorian iron works. It was converted to a film studio in the ‘30’s and later became a BBC television studio where early Doctor Who episodes were filmed. All rather a waste given the fabulous view of the River and Hammersmith Bridge.
The BBC left in the 70’s and since then it has been a multi-use Arts centre, with a couple of cinemas and an interesting programme of art, music, and theatre. David Bowie and Amy Winehouse have performed there, and David Hockney’s works have hung on its walls.
In terms of its theatre programming, the Riverside is committed to encouraging diversity, supporting the Black Theatre Cooperative and LGBT authors.
As part of this latter mission it is now showcasing Horse-Play. A light comedy about one middle aged couple’s attempts to spice up their flagging sex life.
Ian Hallard, the writer, has strong acting credentials having been nominated for a Best Actor award for his role in The Boys in the Band at the Park Theatre and acted in Doctor Who and Poirot. As a writer he is less experienced – this is his first fully staged theatrical production.
Ian took to writing during the long Covid lockdown and the piece certainly has elements of the claustrophobia and confinement we all endured then.
In the play the characters are trapped in an underground room, unable to open a door controlled by a combination lock. We’ve all been there, and I must confess the feeling of increasing desperation at being trapped felt very real.
Fortunately, from its inception, Ian chose to lighten the theme by making this piece a comedy. “When we wondered whether theatres might ever open their doors again, I hoped that if and when they did audiences would be desperate for a good laugh.”
This is always a challenge for a new writer, where the temptation is to repeat jokes and loose the audience. The play could do with some tightening up to maintain pace.
Having said that there are some engaging performances. Particularly David Ames, who played the title role in Steve at Seven Dials Playhouse, and is always very watchable.
Here he is Tim, one half of a middle aged gay couple. His partner is Tom played by Jake Maskall, of EastEnders fame, with a heavy northern accent. The premise of the play is that they are seeking excitement dressed as superheroes. They made the costumes themselves.
Ian said “I wanted to avoid the stereotype that sees anyone over the age of 35 who has a less than conventional side to their sexuality depicted as sleazy, unpleasant, or often downright villainous. The characters in ‘Horse-Play’ certainly have their kinks, but they’re also loving, lovable and – on the whole – pretty well-adjusted.”
Stephanie Siadatan is excellent as Danielle, a dominatrix dressed as a policewoman who is going out with the sculpted muscle boy Karl, Matt Lapinskas.
David Shields the set and costume designer has pulled off an accomplished set that delivers the many demands the writer has put upon it. Including the frustrating locked door. His silly superhero costumes are just right in suggesting a suburban home made design.
This is only for the broad minded, but many in the LGBT community may no doubt enjoy the odd titter, if not quite a belly laugh. https://riversidestudios.co.uk/our-story/news-and-stories/horse-play-comes-to-riverside/