Tuesday, 2 February 2010

A Play A Day #1: Pale Horse by Joe Penhall

The first play for my challenge is one which is rather familiar to me at the moment, as I shall be performing in it this week (do come along if you're local!). It is the darkly funny Pale Horse by Joe Penhall, currently perhaps more famous for his screenplay adaptations of The Road and Enduring Love than his writing for theatre.

The action centres around the character of Charles Strong, who runs a grotty pub in South London. Within the first scene he is confronted by the news that his wife - who he describes as 'the very oxygen I breathe' - has been run over by a bus. We follow him as he struggles with the disruption of grief, searching for and failing to find solace in booze, in 'modern medicine', in religion (he comes from a family of agnostics, which he defines as 'C of E for atheist'), and in new barmaid Lucy. Charles is a wonderful shambling bear of a character, at turns warmly charming and terrifyingly violent; I would have loved to have seen Ray Winstone in the role in the original production in 1995. His reminiscences about his late wife - 'Clumping about the garden with her little boots on, her hair all over the gaff, growing things. She was magic with courgettes.' - are made no less touching by the alternative perspective on their relationship offered by one of the drinkers in his pub.

I have greatly enjoyed getting to know Pale Horse. Its dialogue is whip-smart without being smugly clever, and the humour that infuses it adds savour to the sadness at its core. The final scene especialy, where Charles addresses his wife's grave ('Remember the time I tried to leave? We had a ruck in the middle of the night and I got up and got dressed but you'd hidden my shoes... to stop me leaving. But I went anyway... in my socks.') brings me close to tears each time I hear it. If anyone is curious about the particular production that I am involved in, feel free to check out this little trailer our director made with some rehearsal footage (you might have to be logged in to Facebook to see it).

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