Review: HORSE-PLAY at Riverside Studios

Horse-Play is at Riverside Studios until 24 September.

By: Sep. 02, 2022
Review: HORSE-PLAY at Riverside Studios

Fancy spicing up your love life?

Well, you could stick to bland Date Night ideas, like going to the cinema or a gastropub meal for two.

Or you could be more daring, like Tom and Tim. After a decade of marriage, the married gay couple decide to spend an evening with a hunky male escort in a sex dungeon. What could possibly go wrong?

Ian Hallard's new comedy, premiering at London's Riverside Studios, bravely wrestles with how you inject some zip into a lacklustre relationship when that first intense bloom of love fades.

Choosing an S&M setting, with Tom and Tim squeezed into Spandex superhero costumes (the couple hilariously re-enact Tim's favourite Batman-esque fantasy) ­is certainly bold, but also terrific fun.

Set and costume designer David Shields goes all out with a blackened dungeon containing a looming leather chair with red bondage ropes and ball gag, a cage and all manner of intriguing sex toys. And his superhero costumes are suitably tight and tacky, portraying one of the play's key themes of fantasy versus reality.

Hallard says he wrote Horse-Play during lockdown when stuck at home with his husband and their dog. Why it occurred to him to write a play about a gay couple trapped in a room together is a complete mystery, he jokes. He reckoned that when allowed back into theatres audiences would be desperate for a good laugh. And that's what he gives us.

As well as wanting to make us chuckle, Hallard also takes up the self-imposed challenge to write something about sex that doesn't actually include any sex. So, those looking forward to plenty of lewd antics might be disappointed. Even so, you need to be over 16 to get a ticket, and there are content warnings of adult themes and language, and frank discussions of sex and sexuality.

David Ames (Dr Dominic Copeland in Holby City) is an endearing middle-aged Dynasty-obsessed Tim, who works in marketing. Ames renders the contradictions in his character, from being overly chatty and exuberant - while at the same time worrying about how his mother will face her next-door neighbour, when she reads in the tabloids about the couple (spoiler alert) being trapped in a dungeon with a sex worker.

Jake Maskall (EastEnders) admirably portrays calm and logical Tom, with a job in the police force that Tim doesn't seem to understand. He's always second-guessing what Tim might like, or not like, trying his best to make him happy.

A very ripped and handsome Karl, the sex worker who (another spoiler alert) slips on the floor and knocks himself unconscious, isn't just a heart-throb. Matt Lapinskas (EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Dancing on Ice runner-up) offers a poignant performance that reveals hidden depths and desires, including being a father and understanding who you really are.

Other roles played by Stephanie Siadatan (The School for Good and Evil, High School Musical) as a faux policewoman, and Nick Sampson (The Book of Dust, National Theatre's Anthony and Cleopatra) doubling up as another dungeon client and the venue's owner, commendably add to the absurd proceedings.

Director Andrew Beckett could perhaps consider tightening up the first half, as the play did lag at times. However, things pep up in the second half, particularly when more characters break the tension of the trapped threesome.

Although Horse-Play features a gay couple, this is a universal play that can be enjoyed by everyone, with well teased out themes of ageing, love, lust and longing. And there are lots of laughs, which we certainly all need now.

Horse-Play is at Riverside Studios until 24 September

Photo Credit: Danny Kaan



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