“Ich bin frei, fraulein Slowcombe!” Yes, the audience was watching a production that within its opening moments had turned into a German language, live action scene from Are You Being Served?. From the start, it’s a show that is as difficult to describe as it is a joy to experience without much prior knowledge. Told By An Idiot’s curious production is almost inexplicably unique, running through 95 minutes without an interval and switching between three main strands; the Grace Brothers’ department store (Vienna, 1972), a family of trampolining acrobats who are called to perform at the court of Louis VIX and are kidnapped along the way, and a young boy and his family – overdubbed by other members of the company in a Who’s Line Is It Anyway style – who may be fated to more than they know.
All this is linked by a philosophy student and her lecturer, who meet – in Grace Brothers’ coffee shop – to discuss the philosophical argument of “enlightenment through demonstration”. Meanwhile, two German terrorists can be seen flitting through each of these strange set-ups, getting ready to prove their point in the only way such characters could ever know how.
Confusing? Well, yes. And although one needed to pay attention to the complexities, neither was it as alienating as it sounds. Did every small detail of this production have meaning, or was it all nonsense? The intricate set, littered with hands and arms, was beautifully inventive and really became another world of theatrical design at its most imaginative and exciting.
And the Horse You Rode in On is so clever, so beautifully observed and performed well by a wonderful company. However, despite its novelty factor there’s something about this production that prevents its elevation to a truly memorable show. Maybe its because in the end, every pop culture reference they shoehorn in rather leaves one wondering; does this really bring anything to what they’re trying to do, or was it just something that sprang out in the process and seemed wacky enough to work? What does Bugs Bunny, or Hitchcock, or German Mr Humphreys have to do with anything – or could the guy in the company just do a good enough voice that things were built around that (or does it just not matter at all?). Of course, it seems a bit ridiculous to deride such an off the wall show for descending into a nonsensical ending. And the Horse You Rode In On is funny, thought provoking and very different.