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Home arrow Archive: EdFringe 2013 arrow Colin Hoult: Characthorse
Colin Hoult: Characthorse
Published on Monday, 12 August 2013

4 stars

Pleasance Courtyard (venue website)
31 Jul, 1-12, 14-26 Aug, 6:00pm-7:00pm
Reviewed by Craig Thomson

 Parents or guardians should consider the content of this show if children are attending.

Colin Hoult grabs my hand as I climb into one of the Pleasance lofts, fixing me with his pointed and slightly boggly stare while he hops about barefoot. “Thank you for coming to my show!” The personal touch to hosting duties, grabbing practically everyone in the audience on the way in, puts the crowd in the right frame of mind for what is to come – a sort of giddy, nervous anticipation.

Hoult, a Fringe regular, returns with a frenetic and often deranged tale of make-believe that is anything but childish (despite the writing process beginning, he claims, when he was seven years old).  Set variously between Nottingham – the East Midlands urban centre Hoult calls home – and Snottingham, its Wonderland-like nightmarish counterpart accessed through a wormhole in the floor of an aviary built by Ringo Starr, Characthorse follows a complex but linear narrative.

That’s not to say it’s conventional: far from it.  Like Hoult’s acclaimed Carnival of Monsters, this new show is endlessly inventive, making full use of his array of voices, energetic physicality and plasticine face.  Unlike Carnival, it focuses on a single story thread, with sketch-like characters coming and going as the tale demands, fully embodied through voice, song and dance.  These are mostly hilarious, with a few stretching into hysterical.

The thing I have liked most about Hoult’s performances in the past – and which Characthorse delivers yet again – is a beguiling mix of the absurd situations he develops, the almost-sinister presence he embodies, and the beautiful, lyrical nonsense he spouts.  It’s an impressive sight, as he weaves abstract concepts and pop culture appropriations to spin an unbelievable, but surprisingly coherent yarn.  The pace is pretty relentless, and the audience throughout is either laughing uncontrollably or shifting uncomfortably, exactly on cue.

What was missing here, I felt, was a fully realised emotional payoff.  It’s there in the script – and there is genuine pathos to be explored in the realisation of how exactly Characthorse has saved the people of Snottingham – but it’s skipped over a little too quickly in the rush to wrap up, which robs the conclusion of some impact.

Colin Hoult has the touch, though, and no amount of obscure 80s children’s media references can dissuade me from that view.  Hoult at one point casts ‘critics’ (in opposition to the ‘artist/hero’) as joyless, myopic Fagins, but even as I recommend Characthorse, I can heartily agree with one of Bill the Warlock’s complaints. “It’s not like other things I’ve seen” – and it’s all the better for it.

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