‘Crime comedy’ is clearly a niche genre of UK theatre, and that makes this unique farce all the more refreshing. Playing out in a similar vein to a Carl Hiaasen novel, Mike Dickinson’s Not The Horse had a member of the audience laughing at any moment on opening night at the Unity Theatre in Liverpool.
The story spawns from an illegal horse racing bet between our scouse protagonist Tony and an intimidating group of London gangsters. Tony loses… and owes a quarter of a million pounds before he can blink. Things quickly spin out of control into a whirlwind of aggression, accidental robbery and horse semen. That’s right, horse semen.
The play scores all the wins when it comes to humour. And while a lot of lines are delivered in the same ‘I’ve just blown my fuse!’ shouts which strive for a similar punchline, there are so many different levels of humour at work here: there is the sheer ludicrousness of the plot, and the trail of money and agreements which, like an Only Fools and Horses episode, ultimately comes full circle (albeit by jumping through a couple of well-covered plot holes). There’s lots of physical comedy in there, including Pythonesque slapstick and some genius fourth-wall breaking in sync to an excellent soundtrack (the gangster with the funniest facial expressions looks like Jake Blues and this likeness does not go to waste). We’ve got drug humour to make Seth Rogen proud, from an onlooker’s perspective and also through the eyes of a drug user in a hallucination of hilarious insanity. And to top it all off, a flurry of priceless lines is given to the characters, such as this gem when talking about the best way to obtain the aforementioned horse semen: “Can’t we just show it a picture of a really fit horse? [Asked for a suggestion of what this might look like] Er… Black Beauty?”
The play is lacking somewhat when it comes to rounding out its characters. The all-male cast is excellent, but the only real tool they have to work with is delirium. They are split into three groups within the story, but none of the individuals are particularly well explored, or all that differentiated from one another. Each group has one knucklehead who is the butt of a large portion of the jokes, although all characters have the potential to act equally stupidly should the story dictate a further injection of mania. We’re not even sure exactly why these groups have formed the way they have – very few characters explain their motivation for helping their peers.
But when it boils down to it, an exploration of character is not what Not the Horse has on offer. It is a modern-day farce, with a constantly-escalating ridiculousness as these larger-than-life blokes are smashed together in a series of highly-comical scenarios. It’s all for the laughs. To expect anything else means you’re sitting atop a very high horse – and trust me, he’s going to need a lie down after this…
Company: Naughty Corner Writer/director: Mike Dickinson Theatre: Unity Theatre, Liverpool Duration: 2 hours Dates: 18th-22nd July 2017