A stage. A giant pony. A stripper pole. That’s the first and only combination prop that greets the audience at Griffin Theatre Company’s Pony.
It kicks off a mammoth 100 minute no-interval performance led by Briallen Clarke, that crosses the style of cinematic comedies like Bridesmaids and Knocked Up against the glistening backdrop of the small theatre.
Harriet (Briallen Clarke) is a newly pregnant woman whose anxiety is easily masked by her sharp humour. She lingers around Glebe Library, trashes her best friend’s gender reveal party, and breaks not one but two penises – and that’s all in the first hour. Naturally there’s a lot going on under the surface and what culminates is this Harriet at this place where her entire life is about to change. We learn about her family and her challenging relationship with her mother, her perspectives on friendships, and encounter lots of other vignettes along the way.
Director Anthea Williams does a solid job with a one-person show, really leaving Harriet to move on the stage as needed and feeling natural. The staging feels unexpected and works within the limited space available. Set and costume designer Isabel Hudson excels in bringing life to Harriet and creates an immersive and atmospheric space for the story that sometimes doesn’t live up to its environment. Lighting by Verity Hampton helps embolden and enhance the overall impact, whilst Me-Lee Hay’s sound and music creates evocative and unforgettable emotional moments that remain in the mind long after the play ends.
As a performer, Briallen Clarke is an interesting one to watch. She plays the vulnerability when needed but also doesn’t feel as authentically bombastic as the play required. Moments of introspection come across more like a stand-up show and a friend telling a long story, over an absorbing story that you can’t look away from. Similarly, the portrayal of other characters feels underwhelming and lacking nuance. That being said, when Clarke hits it, she is an absolute marvel. Her ability to ad lib and lean further in when the audience vibes the energy shows her skill as a stage talent.
The biggest failing of the show is Eloise Snape’s script, which is presented nonlinear and attempts to engage with intrigue and building tension. However that tension never feels truly resolved, and the vignettes become confusing in the wider timeline without context. Indeed the comedic asides and commentary of other topics are spot on, but fail with the emotional parts of the story, particularly the process of motherhood, which is also missing visually from the performance. Even a false baby belly could do something for adding realism to the narrative.
The process of becoming a mother isn’t easy for everyone, and Pony is for those who follow a less than traditional path. It feels like a modern story, but has plenty more to say that it doesn’t get around to doing. For easy laughs with a touch of 90s music and a handful of powerful messages, Pony is the show for thee.