Sadler’s Wells, London
By Hannah Nepil
Put a horse on a stage and people will come. Perhaps that was one motto behind this show, whose opening night at Sadler’s Wells attracted hordes of teenage girls. But if they were expecting to see a reincarnation of Black Beauty, they were to be disappointed: there was a glossy black horse, but she was playing the Virgin Mary. Her four-legged co-stars took on similarly symbolic roles, aside from the donkey, who played himself.
Because Golgota, in essence, is Jesus Christ Superstar, spiced up with Renaissance music, flamenco dance, and four stage-school horses. Its creator, the French artist Bartabas, is a great horse enthusiast. Some would even say he prefers the company of animals to that of human beings. He set up the equestrian theatre company Zingaro in 1984, and the shows he creates there are huge spectacles involving up to 40 horses. For smaller theatre stages, though, he has developed a style that often embraces the cross-disciplinary and scores high on poeticism.
As does this take on the Passion story. Here is a production that bends over backwards to evoke a sense of ritual. We have highly stylised flamenco, performed with flair by Sevillian dancer Andrés Marín. We have snail-paced action, underpinned by Tomas Luis de Victoria’s sacred music. The humans wear pointed capirotes and carry candles, and even the horses buy into the atmosphere, trotting and falling in time to the music as though guided by some divine hand.
Yet it never quite takes off. Aside from the obvious examples – Jesus’s arrival in Jerusalem on a donkey; the crucifixion itself – the symbolism is impenetrable, except to those with a very well-thumbed bible. And with little sense of coherence or over-arching narrative, the action feels even slower than it is. Perhaps that shouldn’t matter: Bartabas has given us something beguiling and graceful, all the more so for its very strangeness. It’s just a shame that in such a complex, inventive jigsaw of stage effects, he managed to leave out one little piece: drama.