And the Horse You Rode in On

And The Horse You Rode In On begins with the easy unfolding of soldiers’ badinage. It’s the Great War; these are the German trenches. A man polishes his spyglass obsessively. Another nurses his eye-socket, bruised from hours on the watch. A loan is amicably brokered. Then a soldier lashes out brutally at his subordinate — an act which instantly ratchets up the intensity to an unexpected peak.

There is much to admire in And The Horse You Rode In On. Its final scene, which stages a heartfelt conversation set in no-man’s-land, is poignant and bitterly funny.

It is this breath-catching, edge-of-your-seat feeling that makes And The Horse You Rode In On a rare work of theatre. The setting, deftly suggested with plywood and sacking, provides writer-director Tom Stuchfield with an ideal arena for his exploration of soldierly psyches under untenable duress. In the play’s second segment it represents the corresponding English trench, making possible sophisticated parallels between the two.

Whittled down to five members of its original 12-person cast, each of whom now plays a British and a German role each, the play’s Fringe production is particularly insistent on its symmetries. This is a mixed blessing. Raph Wakefield’s laudable transformation from the efficient, blustering Urban into the hapless Dixon allows for a nuanced exploration of authority and its place in the military. Chris Born is particularly convincing in his analogous roles as a weary old-timer with a good heart and few illusions. But it also makes more prominent the contrast between the German officers’ savagery and the friendly candour of their English counterparts. This feels too easy, too stereotypical. “What are the enemy’s officers like?” one of the German boys asks early on. “Much like ours, I imagine,” comes the reply. The play would be stronger if this were closer to the case.

Still, there is much to admire in And The Horse You Rode In On. Its final scene, which stages a heartfelt conversation set in no-man’s-land, is poignant and bitterly funny. Ultimately it composes a stirring indictment of war.

Reviews by Aron Penczu

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The Blurb

Charting their last twenty minutes of calm before the call to charge, And The Horse You Rode In On tells the story of ten men pushed to the brink in the trenches of the First World War, and the damage its irresponsible leaders caused. Following a five-star run in Cambridge, the brand new show travels to Edinburgh, marking the centenary of the worst conflict in human history, in an intense new revision that promises to remain with you long after the gunfire ceases. Expect camaraderie, love and betrayal. Welcome to hell on earth.

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