An intelligent comment on the euthanasia debate, ‘For Their Own Good’ is a bold production from Untied Artists, which won a Fringe First award at the 2013 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. Jake Oldershaw plays Tom, a knackerman whose mundane job is to dispatch old and infirm horses in the traditional manner, by shooting them point blank in the head. Tom and his young colleague Scott (Jack Trow) face the unenviable task of killing the animals brought to them and cleaning up the resulting mess.
This all may sound violent and unsavoury, particularly to a vegetarian animal lover such as myself but, in fact, the whole production is tastefully and carefully delivered, while managing to retain a challenging, provocative edge. Haemophobics will be pleased to hear the show isn’t gory. The set is free of blood splatter and the men’s aprons remain snow white.
The "putting down" of animals is explored using one life size horse puppet made of a patchwork of navy blue quilted material, perhaps sourced from horse blankets and sleeping bags, with a wicker skeleton frame inside. The horse hangs centre stage, supported by a rope and pulley, operated by the actors.
This same puppet represents a range of different horses throughout the show, some lame, some simply a bit past their prime. The ropes enable the puppet to be wobbled about, giving the impression that the animal is making head gestures and moving its jointed legs. Occasionally the horse’s feet fall into awkward positions but overall the result is visually impressive. When a horse’s throat is slit, the resulting flow of blood is represented elegantly through trickles of red sand.
Though the horse constantly steals visual focus, the narrative focuses firmly on Tom. He has grown numb to his god-like power to govern if and when horses will be shot, yet he seems to envy the fact that animals can be put out of their misery in this way. The dialogue builds on this, exploring the themes of suffering and pain in a sensitive but questioning manner, disputing whether we should be allowed to choose when and where we die. A smattering of pre-recorded sound bites from documentary-style interviews with vets, farmers and health workers helps to enhance the exploration.
The horse inhabits a fairly plain space but this is livened up with a range of small houses made from white card. Each has its own coloured light inside and together they form a little village of homes at night. The effect is charming. The houses are used to tell the tales of the people who live within, each of whom has their own irrational, hypocritical or simply sad relationship with death.
‘For Their Own Good’ is a brave piece, in a similar vein to Sparkle and Dark's ‘Killing Roger’ but with a starker visual approach, proving Untied Artists can tackle a controversial subject delicately but with artistic flair.
'For Their Own Good'
"‘For Their Own Good’ is a brave piece, in a similar vein to ‘Killing Roger’ but with a starker visual approach, proving Untied Artists can tackle a controversial subject delicately but with artistic flair."
We watched this performance at Jackson's Lane during the Suspense London Festival of Puppetry.