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 The Theatreguide.London Review

They Shoot Horses Don't They?
National Youth Theatre      2000

The National Youth Theatre is not connected to the Royal National Theatre ;in fact, it is the elder by almost a decade.

Formed in the 1950s to provide late-teenage actors with a bridge from school theatricals to professional careers, it has succeeded with scores of performers, among them Helen Mirren and Derek Jacobi.

It has also established a tradition of highly professional and polished productions that bear little resemblance to typical teen theatre. So it was not at all presumptuous for their current season to have included a brief run in London's West End.

The NYT's production of Ray Herman's dramatization of Horace McCoy's novel predictably utilizes a large cast effectively, with every small role impressively individualized, while featuring strong leading performances.

The tale of a Depression-era dance marathon in Los Angeles, best known from the 1969 film, mixes dark humour with pathos and the embarrassing fascination of watching misery exploited.

As the contestants drop out from fatigue or injury, our sympathies are focussed on a shrinking group, and finally on the thoroughly lost Gloria, played by Emily Pollet with reserves of grit that frighteningly seep away as we watch.

In the pivotal role of the slimy MC Rocky, Tom Padden combines a magnetic personality with the ability to flow seamlessly from rapid patter to oily crooning.

If he lacks the decadent and demonic qualities (Remember Gig Young in the film) that would underline the cold degradation his character is engineering, that is apparently a directorial decision.

Indeed, the one criticism that could be made of Edward Wilson's direction is that he has chosen not to plumb the darkest aspects of the story.

As a result, some of the MC's more sadistic torments of his contestants, like the derby and the forced singing, are more spectacle than horror, and Gloria's fate seems less inevitable than it should.

The script allows some of the female characters more attention than the men, and Lucy Voller as the singer and Claire Dargo as the bride give strong performances.

As Gloria's partner, Tim Delap captures the blankness of the farm boy caught up in a human drama deeper than he is prepared for.

Take note of those names; based on the NYT's record, it is not at all unlikely that one or another will be a star in ten years.

Gerald Berkowitz

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Review of  They Shoot Horses Don't They - National Youth Theatre 2000

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