Home. Introduction. News. Career. One Man shows. Books. Reviews. Articles. Contact.

Strider – The Story of a Horse

The Sunday Telegraph, 29th January 1984, Francis King

A tendentious note in the programme of Mark Rozovsky’s version, adapted by Peter Tegel, of Tolstoy’s Strider – The Story of a Horse (Cottesloe) states that Tolstoy was “using the horse as a symbol of the inhumanity of the class system.”

Mr Rozovsky is a famous Soviet director and his audiences in Moscow may believe this. It is nonsense. Essentially “Strider” is about three things: man’s cruelty to man; man’s cruelty to animals; and the cruelty of time to all living things.

Strider is a superb animal; but because he is born piebald, his situation is as parlous as that of a man taken off to be hanged for the flaming colour of his hair in A.E. Houseman’s poem. The punishment of Strider’s nonconformity is not hanging but gelding.

Having been presented by his breeder to the head groom as a thing of no worth, he is bought by a dissolute prince, with an eye for his qualities and a bargain. He becomes a champion.

When, however, his racing days are over, the prince has no compunction about selling him off. He passes from hand to hand, becoming older and feebler, until his final owner gives the order for his throat to be cut. Flayed, his carcase becomes carrion for dogs and wolves.

Paralleling this decline is that of the prince, his fortune dissipated and his estates mortgaged and his health ruined by drink.

The story is a tragic one; and it is particularly tragic in this version, since so much emphasis is placed on Strider’s sufferings and so little on his triumphs.

I myself found Tolstoy’s anthropomorphic view of horses harder to accept on the stage, with actors prancing, neighing and rearing up in Michael Bogdanov’s balletic production; but there is no doubt of the extraordinary skill of Michael Pennington’s performance as first a high-spirited, gawky foal, then a proud winner and finally a broken-down hack. The appropriately sombre musical settings are by Terry Mortimer.

Return to Strider, The Story of a Horse