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The Inn of the Dawn Horse

by on 9 October 2022

Debs, Hyenas and Nazis

The Inn of the Dawn Horse

by Joanna Foster

Joanna Foster Theatre Company at Chats Palace Arts Centre, Homerton, 7th October

Review by Heather Moulson

After a two-hour car journey from Twickenham to Homerton, a sudden downpour and fine dining with a sandwich under a bus shelter (Pastrami – Co-Op’s own brand, recommended) things were beginning to feel a little surreal.  So I was all set up and ready to see The Inn of the Dawn Horse and gain an insight into Leonora Carrington, the stunning surrealist painter who left us in 2011. The charming venue Chats Palace, a former library with grand ceilings, has a bohemian air and is colourful and seemed quite appropriate to the subject. 

The Inn of the Dawn Horse references Carrington’s self portrait of the same name, featuring horses and hyenas, recurring motifs in her work.

Chats Palace

With a cast of six black-clad actors on the initially subdued stage, we opened up to Leonora’s early life in 1931, with a social climbing, disillusioned mother and a very cold father.  Despite her privileged and debutante upbringing, Leonora already showed traits of being a trailblazer, impossible odds for a girl from that era.  Young Leonora, played by Flora Spencer Longhurst, conveyed with conviction Leonora’s rebelliousness in a suppressed society.  The older Leonora was played with sensitivity and intelligence by Catalina Botello.

With the exception of the lead, the other five actor’s talent could be credited many times over, as the cast took on multiple roles through this two and a half hour production.  Skilfully written and directed by Joanna Foster, the play took us to on Leonora’s journey starting from pre-war Provence.  The wonderful James Clyde brought us artist Max Ernst, who was charming, needy … and married.  Ernst and Leonora were strongly attracted to each other and ran off together to Paris.  Frau Ernst, Marie-Berthe, played beautifully by Rebecca Crankshaw, was both sympathetic and determined and there was a frank confrontation between wife and mistress. 

La barca de las garzas (The boat of the herons),
sculpture by Leonora Carrington el Museo Leonora Carrington San Luis Potosí, Mexico.

We had a long way to go until Leonora settled in Mexico City in 1947, and it was an insightful and varied journey.  Treating us to the multiple skills of actors Jude Akuwudike, and Adelle Leonce, among others, there was a nice montage of her hyena short story La Debutante, her fascinating relationship with the Surrealist movement, her hostile meeting with Peter Gent, and flight from the Nazis in France showed us true survival and wit.  All this, plus a brutal rape scene; this is a play that does not pretend to be comfortable viewing.

Leonora’s tipping into madness and despair followed by the cold clinical sanatorium, was sharply done, yet never losing its tinge of bleak humour.  The sharp images of Mexico City were impressive, with further hindsight from the older Leonora, with a witty sequence at the end.

This one woman’s resilience was impressively used by the director and actors in the limited space they had.  There were memorable tableaus and skilled choreography by Elizabeth Ranken.  The lighting did vary, but overall it caught the mood, as did the haunting sound designed by Max Wilson.  The backdrop images by Mandee Gage continue to stay with me.

Joanna Foster has written this detailed play with passion.  The Chats Palace production is intended as a showcase, and it is planned to go into full production soon.   The piece deserves it.

Heather Moulson, October 2022

Photography by Joshua Kovak and Museo Leonora Carrington San Luis Potosí

From → Drama

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