Untied Artists’s For Their Own Good looks at our relationship with death. Not the happiest of topics, but having won a Fringe First at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe Festival, the company must be onto something. Through looking at the method in which horses are killed, due to ill-health or old age, Untied Artists invite us to look at the process of death for us as humans. Cardboard houses dot the performance space illuminated from within. Jake Oldershaw and Jack Trow use these to tell stories, with each light slowly being turned off as we learn about terminal illnesses and suicide. This sits alongside the main bulk of the show, a story about a man who puts down horses for a living.
The company use a large puppet horse which is wonderfully manipulated by Oldershaw and Trow as they go through the motions of preparing, killing and stripping the horses of their life, flesh and organs. It’s not as grim as it sounds, there’s care and consideration in Steve Johnstone’s direction that never takes away from the action. Even the draining of blood of the horse after the neck being slit, symbolised by red sand, is thoughtfully presented.
There’s some profound thoughts offered by For Their Own Good on death and the moment in which it is right to take someone’s life. Touching upon assisted suicide for humans and the choice to put an animal down, raises the fundamental questions of the cycle of life and knowing when the time is right, or when someone can’t make that decision themselves. It’s a complex beast to attempt to tackle in a hour but the framing devices used work well, although the central story does feel stretched when there are other references to situations when someone’s life has been cut short. These stories give a wider context for the work, but in the piece itself it feels too distracting, especially as the central story feels so rich.
Ultimately For Their Own Good is a solid piece of work, and whilst it didn’t quite chime with me as much as I would have wanted it too (I found it hard to find a route into the work), there’s some poignant work at play, and some fine acting and puppet manipulation.
Originally published on A Younger Theatre.