Horse Piss for Blood
PUBLISHED: 13:41 29 February 2012 | UPDATED: 12:09 28 February 2013
Darkly hilarious play by Carl Grose premieres at Plymouth's Drum Theatre
All theatre is about stories; about the stories we tell each other and the stories we tell ourselves, because stories are how we make sense of the world. In Horse Piss for Blood, Carl Groses darkly hilarious collaboration with Plymouths mighty Drum Theatre, were presented with the demented mother of all stories the Conspiracy Theory. According to Grose, conspiracy theories are the grand narratives of our time, in that they winkle out what we really think about how the world might work. And if theres one thing Grose loves more than a conspiracy theory, its a Cornish conspiracy theory.
After ten years in a psychiatric hospital, Virgil Ploy is coming home to Nancekuke, a small village on the north Cornish coast. Disabused of his belief about secret MOD chemical weapons-testing and insanity-inducing gases seeping up through the earth, Virgil is now cured or so Dr Levine assures Virgils mother, Gertrude. But life at the old homestead has changed, not least because Gertrude is now married to Virgils schoolyard tormentor, Dusty. The hope is that Virgil can knuckle down and work under his stepdad in the new family business, double-glazing installation, but old wounds are proving difficult to heal. Why wont Gertrude ever talk about the day in 1976 when Virgils real father disappeared? And what meaning can be attributed to the sudden return of The Owlman of Mawnan, a winged creature with the power to strike dead all those who look into its glowing red eyes?
From pitch-black beginning to end, Horse Piss for Blood is theatre as pure entertainment, a macabre delight that explores not only Cornwalls grimmest secret but unpicks the personal mythologies that families create around themselves. Frances OConnors brilliant set taps into the insularity of dysfunctional family life perfectly: a magical mix of the industrial and the organic, tree limbs seem to mutate into sinister pipework, and the space convinces totally as mine shaft, chemical lab and the Ploys' toxic home environment.
The cast clearly revel in the drum-tight script and the myriad opportunities for pulling in the big laughs. Particularly great is Philip Brodie as Dusty, whose small-town bully persona is uncannily channelled via a cowboy hat and an unseemly moustache; as Gertrude, Veronica Roberts imbues the plays true grotesque with real malevolence and just wait until you see whats hiding under her shirt.
With characters and scenarios reminiscent of The League of Gentlemen and Psychoville, as well as the sheer ebullience of The Rocky Horror Show (sans songs), Horse Piss for Blood summons the essence of our home-grown peculiarities. Playwright Carl Grose a Cornishman himself and a long-time collaborator with renowned theatrical innovators Kneehigh has enormous fun with his countys story-telling tradition, as well as making great use of the fact that, believe it or not, there really was a chemical-testing facility at Nancekuke, on the clifftops between Portreath and Porthtowan. In the early 1950s, the MOD used it to manufacture Sarin and VX, the latter considered to be the most toxic nerve agent ever synthesized. The facility was mothballed in the late 50s, but stocks of chemical agents were stored there until the plant was fully decommissioned in 1976. Naturally, rumours abounded, of illegal testing on soldiers, of respiratory problems in the local workforce and, ultimately, of the disposal of waste materials down abandoned mineshafts. Grose works with these theories and weaves in local superstition, human frailties and the particularly malignant stories that families use to control those who seek to uncover the truth.
Horse Piss for Blood is on at The Drum, Plymouth, until 10th March