Insights honed to a knife edge: Horseface, a Fringe review

Alex Dallas, Horseface, PKF Productions. Photo supplied

Horseface (Stage 14, La Cité Auditorium)

By Liz Nicholls, 12thnight.ca

At the heart of this whip-cracking solo show is a smile — wide, tight-lipped, ambiguously ulterior. This is what seething looks like when it’s smiling.

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In this funny sharp-eyed solo memoir by and starring Alex Dallas — Fringe audiences will remember her from the late lamented feminist comedy troupe Sensible Footwear — she is fuming. But since she’s English, which means operating under the mantra “don’t make a fuss,” there’s an air of cordiality — with homicidal top notes. Even as a little girl, Dallas recalls, she had recurring nightmares about wolves encircling the house “out there in the dark, biding their time.” And the older she got the more she understood what they meant.

The wolves are men — teachers, colleagues, boyfriends, friends of friends, strangers, university professors, celebrities at the Toronto Film Festival. “My mother never told me I would become prey,” she says, revisiting her childhood household, with its paternal secrets and stiff upper lips. And at the age of 64, she’s fed up and furious.  

Manspreading is the recurring trigger (euww, there’s a phrase I wish I hadn’t used) for this spirited review of the outrageous presumption of the predatory male. She unspools back to a seminal moment, at single-digit age, and the paunchy old school teacher who calls a little classmate friend “a stupid lump of a girl, a horseface.” The show was born at that moment; young Dallas stood up and told the bully to fuck off, and got ejected from class for her pains. 

It starts young, the closing in, the groping, the lewd come-ons, the assaults, the near-rapes — in metal work class, in restaurant kitchens in 5-star hotels, on public transportation, at Labour Party rallies for heaven’s sake. And Dallas is unsparing about reviewing the humiliating compliances required, in her ‘20s, to be “a cool girlfriend” and “pixie dream girl, funny, bubbly….” An expert storyteller, she makes of this chronicle, decade by decade, a wincing sort of black comedy. No wonder she’s “obsessed” with true crime. 

Anger isn’t very often a sustaining drive on the stage. But Dallas has a brisk, fierce delivery, contained in a crystalline English idiom (that smile is dangerously amusing). Which gets us back to manspreading and a recurring question in Horseface. Is it ever OK to kick a man in the balls?

Depends on the circumstances, that’s all I’ll say. 

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