H.O.R.S.E. is a collaboration between writer and performance artist Tim Bromage (one of Chapter’s Associate Artists, under their Peilot programme), and stage magician Joseph Badman. First unveiled at the Experimentica Festival in 2015, it takes its inspiration from a number of sources including science fiction, science fact and the traditions of showmanship.
The show comprises three elements which initially appear somewhat disparate.
The first is an elegant short story, narrated by Bromage, which tells of a man who, deeply affected by a theatrical experience involving cruelty to horses, resolves never again to hurt a living thing. Immediately on returning home, he is confronted with an infestation of moths, which tests his resolve, then slowly draws him into a Kafkaesque nightmare.
The second is a display of sleight-of-hand trickery from the suave Badman, initially small in scale, but smoothly executed.
The third involves Bromage (or, presumably a fictional version of Bromage) telling us of his interest in psychic phenomena; a preoccupation which has led to his investigating the work done at Stanford University in respect of researching the existence or otherwise of extra-sensory perception (psychokinesis, mind-reading etc); H.O.R.S.E. apparently being an acronym for one such research programme. This has led to his being targeted by the American security services.
Nevertheless, Bromage is persisting with his studies, and, with Badman’s assistance, proceeds to demonstrate his newly developed skills.
This involves, firstly, a spirit cabinet – an assemblage of poles and curtains which dominates the centre of the stage. When concealed within, he is able to make objects move using the power of his mind alone, even when bound with rope (albeit the kind of rope only ever used by magicians).
Bromage’s particular interest, however, is in remote viewing – being able to discern the particulars of an object or person without being able to actually see them. He proceeds to demonstrate this, whilst elaborately blindfolded, using objects borrowed from the audience. When he decides to take this up a notch in terms of danger, Badman walks out, apparently unwilling to watch Bromage injure himself during the show’s climax…
Those who are consumers of television programmes which seek to uncover the complicated secrets of showbiz magic will probably have little trouble in working out how the effects are achieved, although the slickness of both performers is impressive. A more important question is whether the three elements of the show hang together – this is debatable.
As a performance artist, Bromage may well seek to unsettle, and perhaps it isn’t his intention to create a conventionally coherent narrative around paranoia, state surveillance, and the vast, untapped potential of the human mind. Nevertheless, the show’s abrupt ending (at around 50 minutes), and the fact that all the threads weren’t neatly drawn together (unless I missed something, which is entirely possible) left me feeling a little frustrated.
H.O.R.S.E.is clever and intriguing, but ultimately unsatisfying.