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saints and sinners of the stage and screen

Black Beauty in Irons
Etcetera Theatre
7th August 2017

★★★☆☆

Publicity image for Black Beauty in Chains

Photography provided by Second Self

It's safe to say that pretty much anything goes at The Etcetera. One week into the Camden Fringe and we've already seen a mime doing porn and a robot doing improv. Just when you're wondering what else they can and will stage that isn't being done at any other venue, they kick off week two with a drama about animal role play. In Simon Christopher's Black Beauty in Irons, Aidan (Erin Wilson) admits to her boyfriend Bravo (Sam Treharne) that she fantasises about being a pony and so begins the couple's journey into a new world of kink. No matter what you're into, there is always a new subculture that you haven't tried...

Jane (Nicole van Niekerk) is a confident trainer, introducing newbie Aidan to fellow ponies Duke (Marcus Frewin-Ridley) and Ginger (Katie Clement) in an attempt to help her find her hooves as a pony called Black Beauty. Duke and Ginger have different reasons for wanting to dress up as ponies and different ideas of what passes for fun, allowing us to see a broader spectrum of kinks. Although Aidan initially only wants to appropriate certain elements of pony play into her life with Bravo, the more immersed she becomes in this new world, the more she becomes convinced she truly is a pony, forcing Bravo to question whether he is truly comfortable indulging this newly revealed kink or if he's found his limits.

Aidan's very earnest desire to throw herself into pony play and all that entails without knowing any of the practicalities involved allows us to approach the kink with a similar curiosity. It would be easy to make Black Beauty in Irons deliberately provocative and seedy, but Second Self seem determined to lead us through their agenda at a gentle trot, slowly revealing different aspects and asking us, really, what's so strange about it all? There is a somewhat inevitable sense of being educated, with Aidan frequently breaking out into impassioned defences of something she doesn't truly yet understand (these words would seem more meaningful coming from more experienced ponies Duke or Ginger). However, as aware as we are of the company's attempt to make us listen to their views, we don't mind being led to water and do in fact start drinking of our own accord. Whilst I'm not saying everyone is going to leave this show and buy some fetish gear, hopefully they will leave that little bit more tolerant of alternative lifestyles.

The relationship between Bravo and Aidan is secondary to Aidan's exploration of her own identity and although we do see Bravo's support wavering in places, it would be interesting to look into this in more depth. Given his initial reluctance to try out Aidan's fantasies, understanding his personal journey is possibly even more important to the company's message of acceptance than following Aidan's journey. Overlaying the performance with Aidan's thoughts is powerful, as is the beautifully chosen music by Gareth Rhys Prior, but there is a little too much talk from the new foal. It's actually Wilson, Frewin-Ridley and Clement's expressions of pure joy as they play together that best conveys what the company are trying to explain - we see the characters revealing and revelling in their true selves. This is what we should working towards as a society - unadulterated happiness for all.

Black Beauty in Irons is a refreshing piece of writing that pushes us to assess how open-minded we really are. Second Self seem determined to use the performing arts to challenge our preconceptions and embrace new ideas - challenge accepted. Definitely an interesting company whose work is worth following.

Beauty Beauty in Irons openeded on 7th August and runs until 8th August 2017 at the Etcetera Theatre, as part of the Camden Fringe.

Nearest tube station: Camden Town (Northern)



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