‘Horse Country’ (Assembly George Square Studios, until AUG 29)

posted in 5*, EdFestivals 2022, Rated: Outstanding by blackoutbedford

“A dazzling series of verbal loops, covering fishing, trained seals and sea lions, the usefulness of horses and children (once both are broken in) and ‘freedom’.”

Editorial Rating: 5 Stars (Outstanding)

There’s a long and honourable tradition of shows with two protagonists (usually male) trapped together in an unusual situation. ‘The Dumb Waiter’, ‘The Zoo Story’, ‘Steptoe and Son’, most of Laurel and Hardy, ‘Waiting for Godot’ and Rick and Ade in ‘Bottom’ to name a few. To that list, we can now add Horse Country, CJ Hopkins’s just over 60-minute play, first seen at Edinburgh in 2002.

This time it’s Flying Bridge Theatre Company, based in Newport, to bring Sam and Bob to life. And in the form of Daniel Llewelyn-Williams and Michael Edwards, they are in very safe hands. As the audience enters, both actors are onstage, slippers on, seemingly channelling their inner Laurel and Hardy (also playing as the front of House music), in particular Edward’s nervous grinning and waving to members of the crowd embodying the spirit of Mr Laurel.

However, the cosiness does not last long as the play begins in a blizzard of words, images and ideas which shake us out of any complacency. Sam and Bob, our protagonists, take us through a dazzling series of verbal loops, covering fishing, trained seals and sea lions, the usefulness of horses and children (once both are broken in) and ‘freedom’. And here’s the nub, for all Sam and Bob’s talk and dreams of freedom, they are essentially trapped in a system they cannot control and from which they seemingly cannot escape. The search for the lost nine of diamonds from their deck of cards is as futile as their quest to go “out there”, we get an occasional glimpse and then it disappears.

I was reminded at times of watching Twin Peaks, accept everything you see and hear, then work out your own meaning later.

Both actors show superb verbal and physical dexterity throughout the performance and their onstage chemistry is perfectly aligned. They invite us into their world and we willingly take the trip, which makes the one moment of real violence all the more shocking.

It’s a strong performance for Flying Bridge Theatre and hopefully will have a life beyond Edinburgh.

Come for the slapstick. Stay for the verbal gymnastics. Leave with a free carrot (maybe). Get your riding coats on and go see this.

Edinburgh Fringe 2022

Horse Country

Guy Masterson, TTI in association with Flying Bridge Theatre Company

Genre: Fringe Theatre, Theatre

Venue: Assembly George Square Studios

Festival: Edinburgh Fringe

Low Down

Bob and Sam may be one card short of a full deck but they have plenty to say in this energetic return of C. J. Hopkin’s surreal and thought-provoking satire on culture, freedom and the meaning of life. This is great writing and super acting that together provide a Fringe hidden gem that is well worth seeking out.


Bob and Sam sit drinking, talking and philosophising while they think about playing cards and much, much more. They are instantly recognisable characters. There is the childlike, scruffy-haired and dishevelled Sam in his dungarees. Then there is the smarter, more cynical, cool and collected, hat and tie wearing Bob. Like all great double acts, they are trapped in a world of their own making and they are nothing without each other. Like Laurel and Hardy, winners and losers, and fish on bicycles this duo work perfectly together and they are highly entertaining.

There is another double act at work; the writing and the performance. For writing that is this good the acting has to be good too, and it is. The talking is non-stop, with quick-fire patter and exchanges that are reminiscent of comedy from a time gone by. The delivery is flawless with supporting physicality, facial expressions and timing that provides a masterclass in acting and theatrical clowning. Fishing and the cowboy scene with wind in the hair and the question “do I look like a cowboy to you?” are two stand out scenes from many that are staged effectively, supported by subtle changes and shifts in lighting. There is even some magic too.

The writing is tight, entertaining and mesmerising. On the surface we have some funny and smart dialogue that can at times feel like a nonsensical surreal stream of consciousness that takes us from one topic to the next. There are snippets of conversational ping pong that seem to make sense but then at the same time do not. But deeper down and between the lines there is a message and a conundrum to be solved. At one point the characters challenge themselves and the audience when they say “we are talking, but what are we saying?” and that really is the central question. We are also warned “there is too much thinking”. Well, take care because this is dramatic art that prompts you to think, to fill in the gaps, and to pull together the pieces and interpret the work in your own way. Where are Bob and Sam in place and time? What are they trying to say? Are these characters two separate people or just two halves of a greater whole of nothingness? Perhaps more importantly what is a “redemption carrot” and where is that nine of diamonds?

Some of life’s most perplexing questions and cultural concerns may remain difficult if not impossible to answer. However, one action is clear, you are advised to take off your slippers, grab your hat and coat and get out there. There’s a world of wonder to be explored, it’s nice out and it’s a free country after all. You should consider making this show your next port of call.

Published August 15, 2022 by Jim Judges

Horse Country – Assembly George Square Studios

29 August 2022

Roll up! Roll up! Let’s talk car sales, magic tricks, Piaget, coercion and bedroom slippers. If you like your theatre slick, then Horse Country, directed by Mark Bell and featuring Daniel Llewelyn-Williams and Michael Edwards of Flying Bridge Theatre Company is for you.

Fast paced and jam-packed with allusions to well-kent faces, films, songs and writers (Samuel Beckett, Arthur Miller and F.Scott-Fitzgerald come to mind), this ode to The American Dream with all its frailties is crafted for speed and requires quality performers to do it justice. C J Hopkins has written both character, Sam and Bob, with boundless energy and buzz. They spend their time trying not to address the underlying issues of a macho, capitalist society while constantly talking around the issues of oppression, domination, conflict and the rousing qualities of competition and winning.

It is a tapestry of ideas: art to reassure ourselves rather than challenge us; words replacing the true essence of things; pacify the masses with what they want; why fixing things is too hard. What have we lost along the way?

How? It’s a question they ask from all angles. Yet they never probe deeply. Is that the message? They ask that question too – what is the message? The dialogue is delivered as the flight of a bullet. Another apt symbol for America. Shoot first, talk later. This play shoots from the lip.

The physical theatre is wonderful with Sam falling on his arse more than once. The bedroom slippers are a perfect choice of footwear for men who don’t adventure in anything more than their imaginations. The simple set, lighting and sound effects make a sparse backdrop to quickfire dialogue. Presented by Guy Masterson – Theatre Tours International Ltd. Horse Country is set to travel this autumn: Savoy Theatre, Monmouth; Blackwood Miners Institute; Abergavenny Borough Theatre; Torch, Milford Haven; Theatre Clwyd.

Reviewer: Kathleen Mansfield

Reviewed: 29th August 2022

North West End UK Rating: ★★★★★