Words: Alastair James; pictures: Danny Kaan and Charles Flint
A sex dungeon may not be the most conventional place to figure out one’s relationship, but it seems to work for Horse-Play’s central couple, Tim and Tom. Or Tom and Tim.
The premise for this new kinky comedy from Ian Hallard (Boys in the Band) is simple: a couple is trying to spice things up after a seemingly merry 10 years together. It’s nothing out of the ordinary and a set of circumstances many have no doubt found themselves in. Minus the sex dungeon… I’m guessing!
Jake Maskall & David Ames in Horse-Play (Photo: Charles Flint)
The way they choose to go about said spicing up is by hiring dominator Carl, a local sex dungeon, and by introducing a role-play scenario. The particular scenario: superheroes, specifically the 1970s Adam West Batman variety.
That means brightly coloured form-fitting spandex with noticeable bulges (and perhaps a little stuffing) which earn a few laughs on their own.
David Ames, Matt Lapinskas & Jake Maskall in Horse-Play (Photo: Danny Kaan)
The play is a laugh a minute from the moment Karl/‘Villainor’ drags Tim/‘Butterfly’ onstage and secures him to a table. Through exaggerated American accents the cast plays out dialogue right out of an old Saturday morning cartoon.
However, it isn’t long after the arrival of Tom/‘The Stallion’ that things take a turn for the worst as a literal slip-up puts the trio in a rather dire predicament.
Jake Maskall in Horse-Play (Photo: Danny Kaan)
What follows is a thoroughly enjoyable farce from start to finish a la Fawlty Towers. With things going awry Tim and Tom drop their superhero personas and resume their roles as your usual bickering couples, played brilliantly by David Ames and Jake Maskall.
David Ames shines as the neurotic, often judgemental, and picky Tim whose every thought or neurosis Jake Maskall’s open-minded, charming, and personable Tom is never truly able to satisfy. Tom is the calmer, more reasonable of the pair.
David Ames & Jake Maskall in Horse-Play (Photo: Danny Kaan)
As Tom states early on, “opposites attract” and they most definitely do here: Tim describes Tom as a “glass half full guy,” while Tom labels Tim “a defeatist”. Both are equally accurate.
Matt Lapinskas is amusing as the sexy dungeon master-getting-into-role-play-character. ‘Villainor’ makes for a perfect panto villain, even getting a ‘Boo!’ from one audience member after a particularly villainous cackle and a wicked shake of the hips.
Matt Lapinskas in Horse-Play (Photo: Charles Flint)
After a good 15 minutes or so lying on stage in various positions (unconscious) he brilliantly morphs into the amnesiac Carl whose subsequent innocence makes him the perfect objective bystander to Tom and Tim’s relationship.
In the second act, Stephanie Siadatan adds an extra heaping of comedy with Ingrida’s brash, not-taking-any-crap from Tim attitude. Her arrival encourages a comparison between their relationship with Tom and Tim’s, and which is the more efficient.
Stephanie Siadatan in Horse-Play (Photo: Danny Kaan)
Nick Sampson rounds off the cast. Despite being on stage for only a few moments towards the play’s conclusion, he still makes an impression as the slightly hapless dungeon owner running inventory.
Hallard’s script is tight, punchy, and full of brilliant zingers and one-liners. At the press night afterparty, I overheard that the play had earlierbeen cut by 15 minutes. I can’t attest to what’s been lost but what remains is a fantastic comedy full of warmth, humour, and sentiment.
Nick Sampson in Horse-Play (Photo: Danny Kaan)
I spent most of the play expecting some dramatic tension to break and force the characters to confront uncomfortable truths. I also left wondering what deeper message I should be mulling over on the Tube ride home.
But this is folly. Horse-Play is, as Hallard intended, a love story. And that shines through. Not every couple is perfectly matched but that can be what makes them work, and what counts is the love. Despite the subject matter, the play is not sordid at all. There is, despite the characters’ intentions, no sex at all.
Instead, it’s a relatable, heartfelt, optimistic comedy. As Hallard writes in the programme, “it’s a bit of silly, light-hearted fun”. That it most definitely is.
Horse-Play is running at the Riverside Studios until 24 September.
The Attitude September/October issue is out now.