Blinkers and Spurs

Basement Theatre, Lower Greys Ave, Auckland

23/07/2008 - 01/08/2008

BATS Theatre, Wellington

03/12/2008 - 06/12/2008

Production Details

A rock’n’roll romance and a way out Western

When Blinkers was first performed during this year’s Wellington Fringe Festival it caused a sensation – immediately being hailed by audiences and critics as the most irresistible devised work to emerge in years.

After sell-out seasons in Wellington, Blenheim and Palmerston North, this delightfully odd love story reinvents itself for Auckland audiences as A Horse Story: Blinkers and Spurs, at The Basement (ex-Silo) from July 23 – August 1.

A high-paced two-hander, A Horse Story is a theatrical cocktail of doormats and gun-slingers. It holds within it Blinkers and Spurs – two funny and moving stories that follow the first time encounters of four extraordinary strangers.  In Blinkers, the walls are brought crashing down between two seemingly disparate neighbours: Amy, a slovenly punk rock fantasist and Monty, a fastidious librarian obsessed with horses.

In Spurs the audience is taken to the Wild West of America, where a Cowboy on the run has a strange and fateful exchange with a mysterious Indian.

Together, the shows celebrate the joys and foibles of human nature, and ask: why is it so difficult to communicate over the smallest distances?

Written and performed by Natalie Medlock (Arcadia) and Dan Musgrove (Angels in America, Antigone), A Horse Story: Blinkers and Spurs is an astute observation on the quirks of human nature, exploring the beauty that is found in the mundane, and everyday oddities of life.

"It’s the simplicity of horses and the driving rhythms of Patti Smith crammed into the tiniest apartments" says Medlock. "It’s ridiculous and perfect!"

Musgrove agrees, "It’s a peep hole into our living room idiosyncrasies. A microscope for the sweet-absurd irony of our everyday existence. We are strange lonely creatures and we need other strange lonely creatures to survive – so let’s celebrate that and laugh!"

Blinkers is directed by acclaimed actress and director Sophie Roberts (Angels in America, A Streetcar Named Desire, Antigone).  Spurs is directed by the incomparable new theatre talent, Laurel Devenie (Othello, The Graduate, The Tempest).

"Original, creative and economically written, it is both funny and tension filled…One of the stand out Fringe Festival shows."  – Ewen Coleman, Dominion Post.

"On the one hand Blinkers is way-out wacky, on the other it’s awfully familiar. Well worth seeing" – John Smythe, Theatreview.

"It’s an irresistible devised work…humour and pathos in perfect harmony."

– Lynn Freeman, Capital Times.

Blinkers and Spurs premieres at The Basement for a strictly limited season before touring to the Melbourne Fringe Festival in August.

Blinkers and Spurs
When: 8pm
Where: The Basement (ex-Silo), lower Grey’s Ave, CBD
Price: $20 (adult), $16 (conc) *Booking fee applies.
Book at: (09) 361 1000

Return season for Blinkers + Spurs
at BATS, 6.30 pm
Thurs 4 December – Sat 6 December 2008

Unlikely love stories

Review by Lynn Freeman 10th Dec 2008

Blinkers is a play that stood out for me this year, for its originality and the charm of the performances from the young actors/devisors (Natalie Medlock and Dan Musgrove).  It was a pleasure to see it again, this story of a rock fantasist (Amy) and an equine hobbyist (Monty).

So expectations were high for the companion piece, Spurs.  Another unlikely love story, this time between an Indian woman and a a cowboy.  But where Blinkers has charm and the long silences add to the tension, Spurs is tedious.  Having one character who can’t speak English (other than a song) and another whose legs don’t work so they can move about the stage, is seriously limiting.  It drifts along, going nowhere in particular.

It’s also a pity that Medlock, as co-devisor, hasn’t given herself an entirely new kind of character.  She does ‘fey’ better than pretty much anyone on stage, but what else is in her acting range?  Musgrove is given much more opportunity in both plays to display his acting prowess.


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Great madness in two takes

Review by Laurie Atkinson [Reproduced with permission of Fairfax Media] 09th Dec 2008

Blinkers and Spurs are two-hander one-acters with horses, quirky human beings, and a theme in common. In Spurs a lonesome and incompetent cowboy, Johnny Buffalo, has been wounded in a shoot-out and his horse has been killed, while in Blinkers the beige Monty is a lonesome obsessive who draws horses and talks to his equine friend, Chester, who is made of  porcelain, while he pours tea from a pot encased in a natty crocheted cozy.

The women in both plays are strange too. In Spurs the Indian squaw wanders the desert with a jar of pickles and a two-pronged fork to hand and while she never speaks in her own tongue it is also never explained how come she knows all the words to the song The Grand Old Duke of York. In Blinkers the volatile Amy, who lives in the flat below Monty, is a part-time ticket-collector and a wannabe rock singer.

The two plays are about lonely people making contact, breaking down the barriers of emotional inhibitions, and, as they used to say, making connections to make life meaningful. Natalie Medlock and Daniel Musgrove have created amusing and intriguingly off-beat characters that hold the attention but I doubt if the plays would be as successful as they are if they were performed by anyone else.

Natalie Medlock is all stares and introversion as the squaw and all stares and implosion alternating with explosion as Amy, while Daniel Musgrove is all wide-eyed outrage and frustration as the lonesome cowboy and all button-downed physicality as Monty.

Sophie Roberts directed Blinkers and Laurel Devenie directed Spurs and both directors have kept the plays carefully balanced so that comedy, character and theme merge smoothly and the plays never become what they could so easily descend into – an extended Monty Python-like sketch.


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A couple of ferocious comic talents

Review by Mary Anne Bourke 05th Dec 2008

Seeing this pair of two-handers one after the other gives you a good grasp of Medlock and Musgrove’s off-the-wall theatre language, so to apprehend more of what both pieces can say. Both plays show a pair of wildly eccentric characters meeting with varying desires to find common ground. Within the politics of difference simmers a cruel natural comedy, which Medlock and Musgrove refresh with their brutal, zany writing and realise to the max as performers.

While the primary impression is of a couple of ferocious comic talents strutting their stuff in vehicles perfectly suited to this purpose, both directors have made sure to give the pieces an interesting, effective dramatic shape, with changes coming in good time to keep us keen and amused.

In Spurs, a vast American prairie is evoked in seconds with the sound of hooves thundering in the darkness and Medlock’s vacant stare as she sits on her haunches sucking on a pipe in her Injun Squaw costume. In her distracted stillness, she conveys a pure, ‘primitive’ insouciance that is remarkably compelling. Dragging himself into her territory on broken legs, Musgrove’s injured cowboy remains pathetically trapped in the horizontal, his attempts to get her to help him – in the patronisingly optimistic tone of the colonizer – makes for a simmering comic tension. Playing this gringo so broad, tripping out on a delerium of pain and garrulous to the end, Musgrove recalls some stock Western clown but manages to make every line funny in the verve with which delivers it.

In Blinkers, our two weirdos live, one up, one down, in the same block of flats. Being played on the same level makes for a totally convincing and delightful variation. Medlock ‘above’ is a Cockney punk-rock fantasist and self-mutilator. You have to laugh at the dogged air guitar and knee-jerk Fuck-You attitude, again with the vacant stare though disaffected to to the point of a suicidal contempt this time. Yes, this is great characterisation. Musgrove is a bachelor librarian and horse admirer who can only express himself in equine terms. In his habitually positive take on everything, his dress shorts, knee-length socks, short sleeves and tie, he is not a million miles away from Murray Hewitt’s good-keen Kiwi manager of the Conchords – urban son-of-Dagg? Reliably hilarious.

Both directors and performers show an instinctive grasp of the moral forbearance – the vehemently uncivil – in material and presentation that makes us, the ever-human audience, project meaning and emotional resonance into the gap – or chasm – they leave. This is inspired stuff. Go see. Better hurry!


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Good start – galloped well to halfway point – pulled up lame in home straight

Review by Shannon Huse 28th Jul 2008

A Horse Story is two plays about mismatched men and women who must break through layers of miscommunication to find mutual ground and ways of supporting each other.

In Spurs we meet Johnny Buffalo, a cowboy at death’s door following a botched bank robbery that left him horseless, without the use of his legs and with a terrible shoulder wound. He shows great spirit as he drags himself across the desert in search of escape …

Unfortunately, there aren’t many redeeming features in Blinkers, which throws misfits Amy and Monty into an unlikely love story … [More]


Paul July 30th, 2008

The review does seem a bit rushed. I haven't seen the show so can't say if I agrree on her opinions, but perhaps she isn't taking her job that seriously? And nobody benefits from a half-hearted critic. Perhaps its time to send this one to the dog-meat factory? (continuing theme of horsey puns)

Welly Watch July 30th, 2008

Er, I think ‘lame’ was used by ‘theatremoves’ because ‘pulled up lame’ is used in the Herald headline, which Huse would not have written. She did, however, write ‘Frankly, I wish I'd left at half time’ and write Blinkers off as ‘undergraduate insights into humans' inability to communicate’. Even of that was true I don’t see why an undergraduate view of the world or experience of life is not allowed in theatre. But what Blinkers is is a distillation of a human condition we have all experienced to some extent or other. It’s high anxiety comedy. Huse also says ‘the unexpected ending requires a real leap of faith from the audience’ whereas I think it is an extremely insightful nailing of a paradox of humanity – and something most people will recognise as a true possibility even if they can’t explain it.

Thomas LaHood July 30th, 2008

I mean, it's impossible to write an objective review. Partly because there is no one craft of theatre that the production can be checked off against objectively, and parly because if you sat down and impassively analysed the show as you watched you would be an android, not a human, and not fit to review. I've been burned for expressing an opinion in reviews and I find it very depressing. However, the great advantage of the online format is that divergent opinions can be presented and I certainly don't begrudge those who express their point of difference with the critic. Just don't call them lame!

Kate Blackhurst July 30th, 2008

Because someone doesn't like the same thing that you do, does this mean they don't 'get it'? Personally, I liked Blinkers when I saw it at the Fringe ( but I can understand a reviewer who describes it as a play that throws "misfits Amy and Monty into an unlikely love story. Amy is a moronic rock fantasist with questionable personal hygiene while fastidious Monty is more at home with his horsey hobbies. Both characters are wilfully eccentric". What's wrong with any of that? That particular reviewer might not like whimsical oddities, which is fair enough, but I think it is a decent review and far from lame. I haven't seen 'Spurs' so am unable to comment on that, but I do feel there is a tendency to rail against the critic if their opinion differs from your own.

theatremoves July 29th, 2008

Please ignore this lame review, Shannon Huse obviously doesn't "get it". A horse story stands alone no comparisons needed. Go and see this show it is refreshing, innovative theatre performed by two highly talented individuals that will move you and definetly make you think.

Madeleine Hyland July 28th, 2008

Hear hear. This is one of the most exciting, complex pieces I've seen for ages written by two charismatic and extremely talented and deep-thinking people. I really encourage everyone to not miss out. It'll warm up your winter no end. It is a really good sign of things to come that the Basement is welcoming work as good as this.

lauryn winter July 28th, 2008

I entirely agree: I went to watch the show after a friend who saw Blinkers in Wellington recommended it to me. I enjoyed it so much... and I was greatly disappointed to read the Herald review and find that my opinions of the piece were not shared. If a poor review has discouraged anyone from going to this, please think again: I went with both my husband and my daughter and all three of us enjoyed it immensely.

Welly Watch July 28th, 2008

After reading this Herald review from Shannon Huse, all I can say is thank goodness for the receptive, enquiring minds of Nik Smythe and Renee Laing, not to mention Michael Hurst in his forum post and the Wellington critics who reviewed the first season of Blinkers (the only one of the two horse story’s we’ve seen in Welly, so far I hope). Huse’s failure to tune into Blinkers at any level says more about her than anything else. She would probably have written off Laurel and Hardy and Flight of The Conchords too, before they were famous. I say that because I heard someone call it sophisticated clown comedy and I agree.

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Intimate, funny, and will keep ticking over in your brain

Review by Renee Liang 28th Jul 2008

“Every now and then… strangers break into our carefully arranged worlds, leaving us with no point of reference, no language, no understanding…” This is the program’s introduction to the closeted world devised by Medlock and Musgrove in their two plays, Spurs and Blinkers. Each two-hander play is complete in itself, but the link is the performers, and the fact that both involve horses.

As writers, Medlock and Musgrove are masters of observation. As actors, they reproduce the minutiae of human behaviour – the little gestures and habits, the hidden obsessions that come out in moments of tension. The plays are funny – but not because there are any rip-roaring jokes. The laughter is more the guilty, slightly shamefaced laughter that happens when you realise that the pathetic character being portrayed on stage is more like yourself than you’d care to admit.

The first play, Spurs, starts by setting up the familiar cliché of the Western: a wounded hero lost in the desert, cacti, unseen enemies. And here I have to ‘fess up to a prejudice against Westerns (I never understood the Man Alone type, and wondered why the girl never got to do anything except be rescued). But Spurs somehow drew me in with its eye for oddity and human foible. Medlock plays an Indian squaw who has a bag full of unlikely objects including a BBQ fork and a jar of pickles. It is never explained how she got these objects, nor how Musgrove’s character, Jonny Buffalo, got shot.

We meet these characters at the point where Jonny Buffalo is paralysed and dying, trapped in the desert by the death of his horse, and he is found by the squaw. From here the play takes on the kind of dreamlike quality that might occur if someone was dehydrated and dying: time is indefinite, illogical things happen, ominous thundering hooves approach and then fade. A change occurs when the squaw, having examined Buffalo’s body and stripped it as if he were already dead, starts mimicking his frenzied rantings about his family, his prejudices and his fears of death, reproducing his English words right down to the cartoon-American accent. Buffalo never really realises that all she is doing is mimicry, and instead responds as if she were really speaking to him. It’s a clever framing of the universal experience of two people trying to communicate who can never really understand each other.

Blinkers is set in a more familiar theatrical medium: an apartment block. The feeling of dislocation returns quickly, however, when we meet the characters: Amy (Medlock), a “part time ticket collector, full time wannabe rock star” and Monty (Musgrove), a nerdy obsessive who spends his time drawing horses and talking to his porcelain steed, Chester. Although the language and music are contemporary, the situation and characters are somehow timeless. I enjoyed the novel use of the stage in this one: two characters crisscrossing each other in space as they go about their daily lives in upstairs/downstairs apartments. In this play too, a lot of things are left unexplained. For example, how does Monty earn enough to pay the rent? and why is Amy is so scared of answering the phone? But this mystery adds rather than subtracts, and might be part of the reason why both plays stayed with me for several days afterwards. When Amy and Monty sit down to dinner, the stage is set for a clever and funny dissection of how two people interact on a first date – much magnified by the oddities of the characters.

Although I wondered if Medlock affected the same vulnerable, blank-faced stare for all her characters, her persona as Amy is as mesmerising as her characterisation of the Squaw. Musgrove too is consistently good as an actor, although his characters are definitely squirm-inducing. Together, Medlock and Musgrove are a potent combination, taking risks that ultimately pay off.

Go and see A Horse Story: Blinkers and Spurs. It’s work that is intimate, funny, and will keep ticking over in your brain long after you leave.

Originally published in The Lumière Reader.



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Unique theatrical escapade

Review by Nik Smythe 24th Jul 2008

Two one act two handers, just shy of an hour each with an interval between, in this instance makes for a worthwhile couple of hours at the theatre.  Spurs plays first, despite being billed second – a more rhythmic title, or is it intended as the first hint of conceptual displacement to lubricate our expectations for something that is reasonably unlikely for the majority of the audience to be expecting?

Spurs is a locally conceived American wild west parable, directed with tenderness by Laurel Devenie.  Opening on a pretty native American squaw sucking on a pipe, she encounters a desperate American bandit shot in the chest, unable to walk, his horse dropped dead from under him.  Exploring language barriers, status and conceptual values, the bag of money the desperado clutches ultimately plays a minor role in the immediate story.

Blinkers, directed by Sophie Roberts, brings it closer to home whilst still presenting characters it’s not really that easy to relate to.  Allegedly a love story according the programme, it’s more of an Eagle vs. Shark than a Sleepless in Seattle.  The extensive use of Patti Smith as both incidental music and soundtrack is a brilliantly obvious choice by sound (and lighting) designer paul Shaw, who’s done a good job overall. 

Each of the roles of Natalie Medlock, the squaw in Spurs and drunken bedroom orator Amy in Blinkers, have a demeanor distinctly alien from regular forms of communication as we tend to know it.  Both are comical, lovable and dangerous; ostensibly simple but deeply complex inside – or is it the other way around?

Dan Musgrove’s characters are also of a socially removed ilk, respectively Jonny Buffalo, the critically wounded desperado, and Monty, eccentric equine obsessionist who finds his small porcelain horse ‘Chester’ easier to talk to than people, who say things back.  Each in their different ways imbued with a laughing-at-them-not-with them quality, Musgrove shows a definite skill for expressing diverse personalities.

I loved the mysterious elements – exactly who were the horse riders chasing Jonny, and where did that squaw get them pickles?  And who was it exactly repeatedly ringing Amy, and calling her Princess?  …the implications are never properly spelt out, which ultimately adds breadth to the invariably idiosyncratic characters.

In a desperate search for anything not to not like about this unique theatrical escapade, I question why does the ‘stoopid Injen’ never speak in her own language, only mimic the language and accent of the old frontier boy dying on his final heist?

My considered response, without wanting to reveal too many of the play’s surprises, is that there are in fact numerous ideas one could be led to conclude about exactly what is experienced between these two humans under such unlikely circumstances.  Any questions it raises may even be an intentional feature of the stories’ design for all I know.  At any rate, the solid characters and plucky performances alone are a good reason to see this show.

There is no costume designer credit unfortunately, as their work is to be commended; Musgrove’s Monty in Blinkers being a tragic highlight.  I assume, given the relative perfection to which all the characters are clad that it’s the work of the dedicated devisor/writer/acting team of Medlock & Musgrove. 

(Funny story about Musgrove – somehow thanks to the namesake I thought the show was in the Musgrove Studio, aka the Little Maidment.  I only have fashionable opening night lateness to thank for the fact we managed not to miss the start.  I regale this mirthful anecdote in the desire to prevent any potential fellow saps committing the same error.)

[See Michael Hurst’s forum post]


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