Horse in “Careful” stopped off at The Studio at The Festival Theatre in Edinburgh tonight as part of the Scottish Tour of an autobiographical performance work that was first performed at The Edinburgh Festival Fringe in 2016 (produced by Gilded Balloon) and takes us on an very personal and brave exploration of a very individual life and an artist who expresses much of that life and individuality through her music.
One of the first things to say about “Careful” to anyone yet to see the performance is that this is a dramatic work written by Lynn Ferguson and directed by Maggie Kinloch. In “Careful”, Horse is an actor and not a singer (although both her music and the music of others are a background to her life). If you are thinking of going to this show to hear a concert, then this is not what you will get. What you will get is an extraordinary piece of work that few performers are brave enough to tell in public which, through dramatic performance, takes us into the human being behind the music and feelings and events that shaped both the music and the person that is Horse (are the two even separable now?).
“Careful” answers some questions - right at the beginning we find out why Horse chose to identify with that name and not her birth name. That former birth name I will not use in print here as it is clearly a name which has had no identification with Horse for a very long time. What’s in a name some people might say, but an awful lot is the answer, and this is a personal story about not only finding a name that you identify with as a person, but an identity that you can identify with too. All of this may sound simple to anyone who has never faced either crisis, but for this young girl growing up in Lanark in the 1960s and those formative teenage years in the 1970s, knowing that you did not identify with what was expected of you brought much pain; social isolation, prejudice both physical and verbal and many other issues set Horse in conflict not only with her inner self but society around her, and without the support of loving and supportive parents, and through music an escape outlet to give a voice to what could not easily be said in words directly, this outcome could easily have taken very tragic turns of event at many crossroads in her lifetime.
“Careful” is not an easy performance work to watch at times. The level of the “defend the bird flock and attack the stranger” mentality that Horse experienced so often in her life because people perceived her to be “different” and somehow a “threat to their existence” makes uncomfortable watching at times and that is possibly because it forces us to examine our own intolerances (even if we think we have none). This performance work is a bit like watching a soul in the form of Russian Babooshka dolls as each layer is stripped away until we are left with a very raw core. If one often told lie comes out of this performance it is the old wives’ tale that “sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me”. I don’t think a more wrong statement has ever been given as advice to anyone. Yes, physical attack will break the body on the outside, but that body will usually heal and be strong again…name calling on the other hand leaves no visible body scars, but it gets inside of the abused person, deep into their psyche and as the words repeat themselves over and over, they cut into the soul and the self worth of a person every time they are repeated in their head and can literally completely disable a functioning human being by eating them away from the inside. Often what is left is a feeling of low self worth, and at worst it can cost someone their life as they try and escape from the never ending pain caused.
“Careful” is with any measure of performance work a very brave personal journey for Horse to undertake, let alone share with an audience. Yes, this work is scripted (28 pages of it), and there is no deviance from that script during the performance, but although the physical performance may remain the same each show, it is obvious that the emotional performance does not. This work may on one level be helping Horse to come to terms with many things in her past and accept them with the passage of time as being part of who she is as a person, but on another level some of those old wounds are not being healed, in fact they seem to be cutting in even deeper and along with them, old doors to the mind that once were closed are now being unlocked (for good or bad). There is for me part of a feeling watching this show that although Horse is sticking firmly to the script at the public performance level, at the inner personal level many other things are happening.
This is a very personal piece of work, but it is also for me something I have mixed feelings about at some levels. The subject matter and the depth that Horse allows us into her psyche is at times a bit uncomfortable as you feel a bit like an emotional voyeur and wonder if you should really be there as you question “should I be viewing this from my comfortable seat in the theatre as entertainment?”…has this human being gone through so much just for my theatrical entertainment? …so many questions. On the other side of the coin though, this brave performance is clearly helping many other people who have in the past had to come to terms with issues of self identity, those who are currently having to face those issues, and even those who may even yet to face them. The message throughout is that there is no one route to self identity. It is a personal journey of exploration that if you are lucky enough to have support from those who love you, can be made easier. Along the way though, the road to that enlightenment may expose you to many of the uglier sides of human nature.
After the performance itself, there is a Q & A with Horse and Maggie Kinloch that is just as enlightening and brave as the performance work. Yes, the guitar is here and we do get some songs from Horse, but I am not going to tell you what ones as that should be a surprise for anyone still going to see the show. Also, although music is such an important part in the life of Horse, it is only one facet of her as a human being, and I don’t want the music to over-shadow any part of this brave and complex individual in this review.
“Careful” is a story about being brave enough to stand up to all the verbal and physical abuse that a society can give you when they deem you to be different and not conforming to their “norms”, and having the courage to know that you are never going to fit into their little boxes, conform to what they want and find your own identity and worth as a human being. I absolutely refuse to use the term “different” here in this review to describe any human being. We are all individuals, we are all different in some way and accepting those many differences in people makes us stronger as a society and not weaker. We are all a composition of many different personalities and facets, there is no one single definition for anyone…Horse has simply finally found after much personal struggle the combination that makes her the most comfortable and complete as a person.
Review by Tom King