Play: Mare Rider
Director: Mehmet Ergen
Cast: Kathryn Hunter, Anna Francolini, Matthew Flynn, Hara Yannas
Until: February 16th 2013
By Hafiza Butt
'Mare Rider', written for Kathryn Hunter, who plays 'life sucking Elka', the mythic Turkish character who steals new-born babies lives, is a tight suspense drama which explores the trauma we suffer in being alone and the desperate need we have to be held and belong to others. Leyla Nazli's play is gutsy - not only in its dramatisation, its characterisation, but also in its ideas.
It all begins with a woman in a hospital bed, who, just having given birth, dreams Elka, once more, into her life. Selma's (Anna Francolini) nightmare has just become real.
Kathryn Hunter, who was so superb in the Peter Brook production of several Beckett shorts- 'Fragments' at the Young Vic a few years ago, plays Elka with deep emotional energy. She threatens and scares, leaping all over Selma's bed, but it is her near expressed sexual reining in of Selma, and her later motherly caresses that moved me the most.
Fig 1 Kathryn Hunter and Anna Francolini credit Simon Annand
As the curtain is drawn around the bed, Elka, the rider, the stealer of her uncle's horse, the girl who wouldn't be the good woman her family wanted her to be, leads Selma on a journey she'd once made. The simple lighting device of bolts of wavering light and star lights evokes those childhood lamps one either had or kept a quiet desire for. Selma is pulled into Elka's back and then, presses in. The sexual charge is high; the sensuality is not only in the act but how it is viewed, from behind the curtain's thin gauze.
The contrast between the everyday world and the world of myth Selma has entered, where the stories are richer and grander in scale is brought out beautifully in the scene where all four characters are on stage. Mark (Matthew Flynn), Selma's husband, and the nurse (Hara Yannas) talk in the prosaic way of strangers, though when he reveals how he was once on the verge of leaving Selma, he begins to melt. Elka and Selma can see and hear the two others talk, though they themselves are not seen and heard. This is a reminder of one of the things the stage can do so brilliantly that film can't quite carry off. As Elka looks on, it's as if she's watching TV; her asides providing an acerbic running commentary. Selma looks on in torture, willing her husband to reveal less of himself and the life they lead. This is, of course, ironic, given how much Selma has bared herself to Elka. Elka has not however, bored Selma's story from her; she has teased it out, in-between the telling of her own tale. And locked as Selma has been for so long in her own head, we see that this is what she needs; this is her release. And if each moment of great pain is a falling off of an outward shield to reveal a purer form of whom we are, then Selma and Elka's journeys, entwined as they are, have been both hard and momentous.
Nazli uses soliloquies to explore the state of womanhood and to re-live her characters' pasts: the latter, both presenting moments of love and the grotesque. Both types of soliloquy have their own kind of beauty. The play's revelations are made as they should be made; left unpadded, explanation-less.
Fig 2. Kathryn Hunter credit Simon Anannd
The dancing didn't work for me. If it was supposed to be the dance of a dervish, I'd have liked greater abandon. But this is to quibble over small details in what is indeed, a very fine production.
Kathryn Hunter flits smoothly between each transition of her changeling role. The intimacy of the Acrola studio space allows us to see and catch her softening. Matthew Flynn as the husband, though he has a less central role than the two female leads, portrays his pathos well; he is a man who's been broken by what life has dealt him. Anna Francolini, who looks remarkably like what I imagine Jodie Foster would look like without the Hollywood paint, is the cold one to Elka's fire. It's Elka who unfreezes her. Joined at first by hurt, they are later joined by their sisterhood and also, something else. When Elka says, 'I'm beginning to like you', we see that the complement is returned.
It's been two days since I saw 'Mare Rider' and it's still playing in my head: its images, its actions and its words. 'Mare Rider' is a deft piece of stage-craft and deserves to be widely seen.