North Country Theatre’s show of flair

The Rocking Horse Winner at Harrogate Theatre.
The Rocking Horse Winner at Harrogate Theatre.

Review

North Country Theatre presents The Rocking Horse Winner,

Harrogate Theatre.

IT’’s not often you see Harrogate Theatre turned into a racecourse but, with a little imagination, that’s what happened when North Country Theatre staged their version of DH Lawrence’s The Rocking Horse Winner.

We had bookies in the foyer selling programmes and race cards, fine examples of the arm-waving tic-tac men and a realistic stage set doubling as the course itself and as the interior of a fine house.

Lawrence’s short story, he did write more than just Lady Chatterley’s Lover, might, at one level be taken as an anti-gambling piece centred on an obsession with money but at a deeper level, he was exploring the unconscious mind.

So it is that Dr Langman, a psychologist, attempts to interpret what is going on in Paul’s mind. Paul, excellently played by Mark Cronfield, is an adult with a child’s intellect who spends his time in the family nursery riding his rocking horse, as a result of which he hears whispers that lead him to be certain of horse race winners.

In collusion with Basset the gardener, an honest employee not averse to making a bob or two on the side and carefully played by Thomas Frere, the pair, starting with £10 borrowed from Uncle Oscar, played with suitable military bearing and confidence by Simon Kirk, back these certs and over time amass thousands of pounds.

Paul understands that his parents, a spendthrift mother and a feckless father, are heavily in debt and continues to bet to reduce their financial problems, little realising that in fact large sums of money will add to their difficulties.

North Country Theatre is known for its imaginative, innovative and experimental approach to its productions and this is certainly true under Nobby Dimon’s direction.

He, incidentally, wrote the play and took the part of Dr Langmann.

It’s all performed on a decidedly busy set. The scene changes rapidly and frequently from the nursery to the interior of the house, to the racecourse and to different positions on the course.

And it’s all done by moving the fences to different levels and by slickly turning round a set of screens.

To add to the effect there are projected images of races, a marvellous cameo when Victoria Brazier who plays Hester the mother appears in another guise as a horse galloping across the stage, a race commentary which would not have disgraced real life television commentaries and, just before the interval, the race for which the audience had placed bets as they entered the theatre.

So realistic was this that the audience spontaneously cheered for their chosen horse.

It’s quite a short production but thoroughly enjoyable, allowing us to enter into the spirit of the occasion while still following the darkness of the unravelling plot.

Ken Hulme

Northern Theatre are taking this production - five performances weekly - all over the north of England until mid-December.

If you missed it in Harrogate, telephone 01748 825288 for other venues.