In Brief: I Met (Port Road) The Other Day; A Little Horseplay

by Jane

The Australian Bureau of Worthiness has been tasked with traveling around Australia and asking people what makes your day worth it?  In this presentation at the end of a residency at Port Adelaide, Emma Beech walks us through her explorations in the Port.

Beech exudes honesty and care in her presentation for the Bureau, and in this she sits on an intriguing line between presenter and performer.  The parts of the show which is Beech herself and the parts which are a character are blurred in this line which almost becomes frustrating: how can you comment on a performance when you’re never quite sure were it starts and it ends?

As just an occasional visitor to the Port, at times I felt disconnected from the piece: when it a work is so responsive to a place, how much do you need to understand the place to understand the work?

Yet there is a simple beauty to hearing what makes people’s day “worth it” and how people interpret just what “worth it” means.  Some stories were twinged with sadness and pain, but by focusing on the good they all brought joy.  I was reminded about this video work as I watched, and the gift that is given when you ask someone to reflect on something good.

A clown, an opera signer, and a little horse: this is A Little Horseplay.  A seemingly only tangentially related set of sketches and scenes, A Little Horseplay is so beguilingly delightful I think I sat there the whole of the presentation mouth agape, smitten.

Stephen Sheehan is a remarkably honest performer: he tells these extended jokes – a set up, a punch line, paragraphs of exposition in between – which you feel on paper would come off at best flat, and at worst terribly unfunny, yet with Sheehan’s calm honesty they are hilarious.  It would be deadpan except the knowing, inclusive glint in his eye, and it is through his quietness that the audience becomes uproarious.

Although to say Sheehan was the star would be an outright lie.  Understudy horse, Mouse, stole the show.  I think everyone just needs to throw the mantra “never work with children and animals” out the window, and insist all productions be performed with the aid of a horse.  The mash of comedy, opera and a horse, of course, almost sounds as if it couldn’t work, but the humour and the drama of just having a horse on the stage transcends any confusion in genre.  Being Mouse’s first performance we weren’t privy to the whole in-development work, Sheehan had to stop and explain the end – but in the context, this worked.  Being told what a horse should do is almost as fascinating as if it were to all go to plan: and is that the fantastical thing about live theatre, anyway?