Sean Burnett Dugdale-Martin
Horse With No Names’ show Fab Beasts is a show of two stories. The first follows the unicorns at Unicorn Property Management as tensions and water levels rise when the heavens open and only two of every kind are allowed to live. The second dives deep down into the murky world of Detective Ness (Katie Boyle): mother, lover and Loch Ness Monster. Ness races to solve a string of grisly murders, and faces her most difficult adversary yet: the patriarchy. As well as a killer with a penchant for cured meats. Winners of Spectacular Organised Chaos in the New Zealand Fringe Festival 2021, nominated for Pure Joy and Inspired by myths, and Irish folk music, Horse With No Name have written a comedy that is a loch load of fun!
Entering the BATS Stage we see a hint of the scenes to come: two exercise balls under a long office table with a long blue sheet of plastic laying across the width of the stage. Two performers, Joe Raea singing and Eddie Kerr on guitar, tune and chat together before performing a song for those of us still walking in. The show hasn’t started but the fun has begun. Raea is a magnetic singer using songs written by THE Benny Tipene.
The show is broken into two 25ish minute halves of different stories, both mentioned above. The note in the programme from writers Ryan Cundy and Catriona Tipene sheds light on their intentions: exploring important ideas of our world by resituating them in fantastical settings with fabulous mythical beasts. “If you don’t want it to be [an allegory], then it’s not. At least it’s funny. You decide.”
The allegory is a great way to carry the themes, I congratulate the team at Horse With No Name on a winning formula! The more you seriously engage with something the less you want to. We can tire of constantly engaging with important topics that need to be taken seriously like the glass ceiling, racism, the housing crisis, global warming, the list goes on. It’s accessible and the cast delivers on keeping it funny regardless of the lens you want to take. They perform with energy and joy – it’s easy to see why they received their nomination for Pure Joy!
The costumes must be given particular attention. Salomé Grace designed the immaculate unicorn costumes that were the perfect balance of ungainly and stunning. Victoria Gridley designed the incredible Ness and the images don't do justice to it's in-person grandeur. The minimal set, however, made the beautiful costumes feel disjointed from the rest of the stage. I’m pretty confident in saying that this isn’t a skill issue and instead a funding one, considering the skill already involved. I don’t know about the goings-on behind the scenes but from what I saw I think that with the right funding the team at Horse With No Name could create a world for these immaculate characters to feel cohesive in – which isn’t necessarily a world as fabulous as them, just a stage as dressed as they are.
I hate to be that person who really doesn’t like blackouts for scene transitions but there were a lot in Fab Beasts and it felt like a missed opportunity. The unicorn costumes are goofy and it’s fun watching actors perform with such energy while trying to manage their costumes, I love to watch performers work hard! Why couldn’t we see them trying to move things around in their silly costumes? The show got a laugh during a blackout because we could see unicorns moving things around in the little light that had seeped out from backstage. Lean in, Horse With No Name, lean in to it! Blackouts kill the buzz and there is a great opportunity to keep the buzz going!
I also think that the two distinct halves of the show, which aren’t connected, could be rethought. It left me trying to make connections between the two halves only to realise there aren’t any? I encourage the team to think about either doing more, shorter vignettes (like Midnight Confessions), advertise it as a double bill show, or instead creating one long storyline. Either option could keep to their kaupapa of fantastical allegories for optional theme-engaging, and the long-form option could include the unicorn and Ness costumes all the way through the show because they’re both so alluring? I also wished that Raea and Kerr were utilised more because of how talented they are together! They were only used as bookends to the show and as a transition between the first story and the second. What if they were framed more as the storytellers, like what Jacob Rajan did in Krishnan’s Dairy when he would swap into a musical character and sing songs about moments in the main characters' stories.
That being said, the show is still SUPER fun! There’s a reason the team has won an award and been nominated for another. As an ensemble, they work incredibly well and I offer them my constructive criticism as a way of wishing them well in turning Horse With No Name into a household Horse with a household Name.
Fab Beasts is on at BATS until the 5th November, find more info here.