Year of the Horse
In January 2007, Resonance FM called up Tam Dean Burn, who produced occasional live plays for them, looking for a new piece. He promised them he’d think about it, then picked up a newspaper. Front page news was the death – then presumed to be a suicide pact, later revealed as the murder and suicide – of Mandy Williamson and her husband Harry Horse (real name Richard Horne), the award-winning children’s author and political cartoonist for the Sunday Herald.
‘I was really shocked by the news, really shaken,’ says Burn. ‘That’s when I realised how his cartoons had affected me. I got back on to Resonance immediately and said I’d like to put together a memorial.’ That short radio play has grown into Year of the Horse, a theatrical piece, structured around the 52 cartoons Horse published in the year leading up to his death, usually in response to the Bush/Blair ‘special relationship’. Burn asked Keith McIvor, better known as Optimo’s Twitch, to create a soundtrack. ‘I saw on the Optimo website that Keith had written an obituary for him, that he’d been moved by his work too.’
Where other political cartoonists depicted Bush as a near-loveable chimpanzee, Horse’s images don’t shrink from the horror he felt these men represented: Blair is a puppet worked by demons, Bush a gnarled, poisonous tree trailing skeletons. The metaphors are lurid, but they’re beautiful, too, the bleakness of the imagery increasing in intensity as the year progresses. Knowing what we now do about Horse’s mental state in the months leading up to the deaths, it’s tempting to draw conclusions, but Burn’s piece stays resolutely away from sensationalist editorialising.
‘The text in Year of the Horse was all written by Harry Horse himself,’ he explains. ‘His editor had asked him to add some text, so he wrote poems to accompany each week’s cartoon. He was able to come up with these amazing images, but also express himself and the way he felt about what was going on politically that week, through verse, and these things that had such an impact on everyone who read them: that’s what I wanted to celebrate.’
Tron Theatre, Glasgow, Thu 19–Sat 28 Feb