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29 January 2013

Myth and modernity collide in Mare Rider at the Arcola Theatre

IN a venue as intimate as the studio at Arcola Theatre, the first thing you see is important. The set of Mare Rider is a starched white room in a hospital ward with a single bed on which a middle-aged woman sleeps.

The first thing you hear is important too. The cantering of a horse’s hooves hints at the surrealist subject matter of Leyla Nazli’s new play, in which a mythical woman – whom legend has it haunts new mothers and steals their babies – enters into an intense relationship with mother-to-be Selma.

Kathryn Hunter’s Elka, the infamous Mare Rider, is at once beguiling and repulsive: with a mischievous nod to her audience and a sweep of her muddy black skirt, she declares herself, at 'the end of nowhere – Homerton hospital in Hackney'.

Anna Francolini, wonderfully diverse as Selma, portrays a complex relationship with her tormenter: she is both wide-eyed terror and unbridled anger, both independent career-woman and childishly dependent on Elka, the woman of her nightmares.

The two female leads wrestle – sometimes literally – with the idea of freedom, women’s choices and opportunities, or lack thereof. Both are unable to reconcile their dreams with reality: Elka yearns to ride horses, whilst Selma longs to fight against injustice, but is paralysed by a sense of her own powerlessness.

The passionate relationship which evolves between the two women offers a glimpse of hope. Nazli suggests that women can and should work together in the struggle for freedom –  to live their dreams and not their nightmares.

Mare Rider is on at the Arcola Theatre until 16 February. For more information and to book tickets click here.

Anna Francolini as Selma and Kathryn Hunter as Elka in Mare Rider at Arcola Theatre

Anna Francolini as Selma and Kathryn Hunter as Elka in Mare Rider at Arcola Theatre

Anna Francolini as Selma and Kathryn Hunter as Elka in Mare Rider at Arcola Theatre

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