C.Y. O’Connor’s Horse is a great title for a show playing at the Old Customs House, Fremantle and inspired by a tragic event in West Australian history.
O’Connor, the Irish engineer who worked on the port of Fremantle and the Kalgoorlie pipeline, would have ridden past the Customs House on his horse on the morning of March 10, 1902, to reach Robb’s Jetty.
There he steered the horse into the sea and shot himself. The stuff of high drama indeed.
The show opens with O’Connor coming on stage and slumping to the ground, presumably dead. His ghost stirs up and the story begins. So, the story deals, not with the event itself, but with the legacy of the act of suicide.
The plot quickly moves to contemporary times and we are treated with an array of characters, including a dizzy, self-engrossed YouTube personality who spends much time preening herself and talking about onions and a leather-bound gay man, sporting a horse’s head for a hat, strutting his stuff suggestively.
O’ Connor himself reincarnates in different guises, including that of a plumber discussing a leaky pipe, sinking his teeth into a raw onion and just waiting, waiting for Godot I suspect.
This seems to be a reference to Becket, another Irishman, and the theatre of the absurd.
However, one needs to be able to laugh, as well as despair, at the absurdity of life. In this piece the laughs are rare. Pervasive in the show are water images, from the sea to dripping pipes, plus the blood of violence and self-violence.
This is a highly conceptual piece that aims very high but does not quite reach the heights. It parades a succession of colourful characters and weird situations.
Although the disparate elements often work in themselves, they fail to jell as a whole.
The result is a self-referential, fragmented piece which promises much but does not fully engage the public.