‘And The Horse You Rode In On’ on Enlightenment by Demonstration

It’s hard to establish what the play ‘And The Horse You Rode In On’ sets out to describe. Despite being introduced to it with a satisfactory reason for its title, I phrase that occupies throughout the play is in fact: “Enlightenment by Demonstration.” The show, a montage of various narratives interwoven and played by five performers, begins in a lecture on “Enlightenment by Demonstration”, and ends with the implications of such teaching – the borderline slapstick is now turned sharply on itself to reveal for the first time in the 90 minute play, that there is in fact a sense of morality suggested under the clown-like absurdity. The idea of foolishness undercuts much of the events comprised. Such absurdity that, to name just one example, three kidnapped foreigners singing endless rounds around a fire would cause their hijackers to turn the gun effortlessly on themselves.

What is it then that the play is moralising? I believe it is anarchy. Under this ascertain the seemingly irrelevant title ‘And the Horse You Rode in On’ becomes significant. A character who represents Alfred Hitchcock provides the prologue to the play in which he tells the story of the masked lone ranger, who enters a saloon in the wild west, and upon seeing a group of cowboys playing poker, an act which is against the law, attempts to stamp his authority on the guilty citizens. One of the cowboys, clearly unthreatened by the hierarchy in place, disturbs the order, and commands the lone ranger to “f*** you.” The lone ranger, angry and undermined protests, listing his credibility and status; to which the cowboy replies, “f*** you, and the horse you rode in on.”

As a composite, then, the numerous narratives comes to critique anarchy, as they oversee the fantastical events of societies where anarchy was a rising ideology or had the potential to be: London after the first world war and before the second, France at the time of the French Revolution, London at the time of the trade union strikes, and Bugs Bunny amongst others. As the final context makes clear, the play was not a representation of historical or political events – these were quite aside from the storyline as put before us – instead, most was focussed around the comings and goings of a department store and their in-house café in various cities… and occasionally London Zoo.

Hindsight is provided to these other periods and places in the most important scenes, which are set in 1997. This is when a student, inspired by her lecture on “Enlightenment by Demonstration,” meets her professor to discuss her understanding of his teaching, and how she is going to demonstrate enlightenment of such knowledge.And it is “Enlightenment by Demonstration” that becomes the excuse for a range of activities within the plot, including a camp sales assistant warming his hands in order to see to a male costumer who is trying on a pair of stripped speedos! What the lecturer expressed as Enlightenment had become for the student the quite different idea of anarchy. She attempts to exhibit Enlightenment in the café of said department store, by plotting to, and eventually setting fire to her dog Max. (This I should mention is just one of the dark comedic moments within the play.) Brainwashed by the idea of ‘Carpe Diem’, she believes this act of terrorism, will make the Bourgeois ladies wearing their wigs and sat with dogs on their laps, spit out their cake. Could this be a more blatant allusion to the Marie Antoinette and the French Revolution?

However, as Immanuel Kant writes in the opening line of his essay entitled ‘What is Enlightenment’ 1784 – “Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity.” What the student, played by a 4 ft something lady, represents is adolescence of the mind. She is depicted as naive, as not yet reaching maturity, or not yet possessing full understanding – as proven when the lecturer groans hopelessly at his student’s ludicrous interpretation. Surely it is no coincidence that the other key role we see this actress take is a 9-year-old boy called Stevie. It is only in the tale of Stevie, where the narratives begin to summarise themselves – the bizarre nature of the other storylines become clear. He, only a boy, has no choice but to possess naivety when his uncle gives him a bomb to leave at the café at 5pm. And, just a child, has no restraint when walking past the cinema where they are about to show the Bugs Bunny movie, making him regrettably late for the disposal of and separation from the bomb. And so at this scene, and only at this scene, does the tragedy of murder become apparent, and the foolishness of walking into something you know nothing of.

Now, forgive me if I’ve given you the wrong picture. This is neither a mind-numbingly philosophical or political play, or a murder-crazed production. How it appears throughout its duration, is in fact comic. It is light hearted rather than cold-hearted. However, this would be only a face-value understanding, and a didactic intention is clear – to challenge the audience’s ideology, and to suggest that we should revolutionise our ideas, as a prevention from insanity. The setting of the performance was imitate, and the stage was purposefully used as a tool to involve the audience, not separate them from the cast. For example, on one occasion the viewers were taken to the Venetian variety show, where the direction was reversed so that the audience were put in the position of the performer, and the characters were idly watching.Therefore in the context of a university playhouse, it aptly warns the audience to the ideas and aspirations easily acquired in education, when a step back isn’t taken to analyse what is occurring.

Moreover than clever ideas, the theatre production showed off fluency in foreign languages, imaginative use of props, mime and the use of voice to mimic squawking parrots, hostile weather conditions and bouncing trampoline gymnasts. All of which composed an entertaining, and indescribable show.


http://www.warwickartscentre.co.uk/events/theatre/and-the-horse-you-rode-in-on

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