Horse McDonald in Careful at the Gilded Balloon at the Museum (Venue 64), until 29 August.
Star rating: five stars ★ ★ ★ ★ ★
“When I sing, I am strong and unafraid.” Few who have heard Horse McDonald sing would argue with that. This is a lavish talent who can add ‘mesmerising theatre performer’ to her list of credentials and it may prove to exceed that which she has achieved so far. Dressed in monochrome simplicity, McDonald opens her show in the seemingly unbelievable setting of the Royal Albert Hall. Only unbelievable when, bit by bit, we hear the story – the story of a girl who always knew she wasn’t the same as other girls.
Lynn Ferguson’s text evolved from exploring and finding the threads that make up the story of McDonald, weaving an intricate pathway through her life that is all the more remarkable as she has not only survived but clearly celebrates the human spirit.
In performance, there are clearly points in the text that break the line between performer/raconteur and reality.McDonald takes time – gives pause where pause is due, and as part of the audience, we can feel that struggle and share it with her. Maggie Kinloch’s deft and assured direction gives McDonald a good frame to hang her talent upon. There are times when the direction, script and performance blend so perfectly, we can ‘see’ the pictures painted from her memory as vividly as the simple and effective staging.
During the piece we find out where her name came from and what she endured as a child. Yet through it all, the sense of family remained strong within her. Her sincerity is, at times, overwhelming: her evocation of her parents is profoundly moving. All the more effective as her singer’s training and experience is expressed through wonderful phrasing that would leave many an experienced actor gasping for air.
And when she sings – she takes your breath away.
Does it seem she sings with more passion and clarity than ever before, or is it we have had the honour of walking an hour in her shoes? Whichever it is, this is a diamond standard performance. Haunting, compelling, candid and fearless.