Theatre: Horses take the lead in Holy Week

Bartabas and one of Golgota’s horses

Bartabas & Andrés Marín – Golgota, a world touring production which I caught at Sadler’s Wells, is a collaboration between equestrian trainer Bartabas, flamenco dancer Marín and four horses. They echo and respond to each other’s presence.

There are not many stage roles for horses these days. I know horses that auditioned for the National Theatre’s War Horse and a recent revival of Peter Shaffer’s Equus, but they lost out to humans. There were plenty of roles for horses in the Victorian era, and most famously at Astley’s Amphitheatre, where equestrian dramas were all the rage. One of the biggest successes of the 19th century was an equestrian burlesque of Lord Byron’s Mazeppa. There was even a production in 1856 of a much-cut version of Shakespeare’s Richard III, subtitled The Death of White Surrey (the name of the king’s horse), in which the horse was the leading role.

Golgota is inspired by the rituals of Holy Week in Seville. The props include candles, ruffs, hoods, long pointed hats, handbells, thuribles and incense. There are references to El Greco and Zurbarán. The sacred music is by Tomás Luis de Victoria, a priest (1548-1611), played on cornet and lute and sung by a countertenor. There is some nifty foot-stamping from Marín who slaps his bare chest and thighs while Bartabas rides around. The horses, very obedient, very stoical, stand still, circle, trot, collapse, roll about on the ground and do a bit of Olympic dressage. Golgota might be more spiritually meaningful and thrilling if it was being performed in Seville during Holy Week as a complement to the religious rituals.

Motown: The Musical at the Shaftesbury Theatre is based on the biography of Berry Gordy, the founder of Detroit’s Motown Records. The performances of the artists on his label are recreated, including acts by Diana Ross and the Supremes, Smokey Robinson and the Miracles, Michael Jackson and the Jackson 5, Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and the Temptations. The major weakness is the book; but I doubt very much if this will bother audiences who will be coming for the music and the nostalgia.

Charles Randolph-Wright’s production is slick and lively. The costumes, the wigs and the movement for the lead singers always look right. There are strong and likeable performances from Cedric Neal as Berry Gordy, Lucy St Louis as Diana Ross and Charl Brown as Smokey Robinson. There are 50 great songs performed.

At Southwark Playhouse, American playwright JC Lee’s Luce is set within a more modern context: the fear of home-grown terrorism. Luce (Martins Imhangbe) is a 17-year-old high school student who has written an essay in praise of a right-wing terrorist. His teacher (Natasha Gordon) is concerned, and even more so when she finds illegal fireworks in his locker. She alerts his parents (Mel Giedroyc and Nigel Whitmey). They jump to conclusions and things get blown out of all proportion. Or do they? Has Luce cracked under the pressure of the high expectations of his school and his adoring parents? He deeply resents being a role model. So, is he a terrorist? Go and see Martins Imhangbe’s impressive and
ambiguous performance in Simon Dormandy’s well-acted production and make up your own mind.