REVIEW: Kicking a Dead Horse, Almeida, Islington

PUBLISHED: 15:08 24 September 2008 | UPDATED: 15:25 07 September 2010

Three star rating A horse and a hole dominate this Sam Shepard play. It premiered at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, back in 2007 and the Almeida invited the Abbey to revive the production. Directed by the playwright, acclaimed actor Stephen Rea has taken the

Three star rating

A horse and a hole dominate this Sam Shepard play. It premiered at the Abbey Theatre, Dublin, back in 2007 and the Almeida invited the Abbey to revive the production. Directed by the playwright, acclaimed actor Stephen Rea has taken the reins for a second time.

Rea plays Hobart Struther, an ageing hotshot art dealer, on a quest to find "authenticity".

Leaving a comfortable life behind, the increasingly manic Hobart has ridden out to the badlands of America equipped with all that is needed for a stay in the Wild, Wild West - tent, food, blanket, hat and, of course, horse.

It is this horse which we meet as the lights dim, lying on its side, back snubbing the audience, "deader than dirt", accidentally killed by oats fed to it by Hobart.

Hobart is busy digging a hole in which to bury the body. His overwhelming need to get horse into hole forms the backbone of a play that deals with subjects as difficult as the protagonist's objective.

Hobart's story is a lament for a life which he believes was not really his for the taking, laced with the creeping understanding that his adventure is a futile attempt to recreate a past that cannot be regained.

Rea's beautifully hangdog face and wiry body capture Hobart's descent with great vigour. The performance is shot through with moments of still, poignant sincerity - a heartfelt wish for "one last, bright, shining, sunny day", highlighting the very real pain at the centre of the play.

But with these moments of truth come moments of stagey affectation, including some set pieces that fall flat in more ways than one.

A bold, vibrant production that takes you to the middle of nowhere, but doesn't quite keep you there.

Until tomorrow.

Sara Thomas

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