Horses at the Window explores loss through the absurd at Toronto’s The Great Hall Black Box Theatre
I’m a big fan of black box theatre. It is basically a style that encompasses a largely bare performance area and temporary seating. It puts an emphasis on writing and performing. It also helps to open up theatre to more people. It embraces the independent and DIY spirit.
Horses At The Window is a story is about three women who lose a significant man in their life to war. One woman loses a son. Another loses her father and the third loses her husband. It is a journey through three centuries of the mindlessness of eternal war.
Oyin Oladejo plays all three women. Her emotional depth and maturity belies her age. She conveys wisdom with authenticity, as a mother, as a daughter and as a wife. She is one of those actors who have the talent to make it look easy, effortless. She’s one of those gifted artists who don’t appear to be acting. Oladejo, originally from Nigeria, is quite splendid.
After the death of each man, a Messenger (Pooria Fard) breaks the news to the woman. These scenes are all ridiculous and fantastically acted. The play isn’t laugh out loud funny, but it is hilarious and intelligent. I thought there were elements of Monty Python, The Marx Brothers and M*A*S*H.
Both Oladejo and Fard are a treat to watch, as is the entire cast. At the end of Horses At The Window, my friend Julian wanted to approach them, offering congratulations for a job well done.
The play might be the theatrical equivalent of the song And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda. In the right hands, the song will bring out incredibly strong emotions and be with the listener for a very long time. This mounting of Horses At The Window is definitely in the right hands and will be with its audience for a long time afterwards.
Julian and I had different opinions about the plot. He found it hard to follow and said he was lost at times. I found it slow moving and predictable at times.
Horses At The Window was written by Matei Visniec. Visniec is a Romanian who moved to France to escape Communism. Since the fall of Communism, Visniec has become one of the most performed playwrights in Hungary.
Director Siavash Shabanpour has experienced war in many ways. This helps to explain the terrific synergy of this cast and crew. They know the horrors and absurdity of war first hand. They know how to make Horses At The Window work. Like I said earlier, this play is in the right hands.
Drums divide the segments of the play, but they also enable it to flow. Water flows throughout as well. Outside it rains, inside the tap runs black water, if at all. Through drumming, we learn about the lunacy of countries taking over one another. Both are quite effective at tying together the three scenes, the three centuries and the endless cycle.
There’s also great puppetry. Some of them reminded me of the cartoons from Pink Floyd’s The Wall or Edvard Munch’s painting The Scream. It was very inventive mixing Oladejo with the live-sized puppets. It is absurdity that works. I’m sure Jim Henson would approve of this work.
It is black box theatre, and there is a scene involving boots near the end that I would describe as magical. It has a special feel and a special intimacy. Horses At The Window will knock your socks off.