knight home company shows dates contact other links mabel


shows Horsehead 2005

Like a Greek comic/tragedy without being Greek.

A beetle infested skull, a desolate Sanatorium, a pint sized porter, a clown with a bayonet and a ghostly amputee are some of the horrors in HORSEHEAD


HORSEHEAD is a cruel world of charm and burlesque but spiked with wicked humour, puppet nudity and some very strange noises.


Using pre-recorded and live video, specially composed music and sounds, animated figures and mechanical sets, FaultyOptic are world renowned for their haunting tales, bizarre visual theatre and live miniature video installations. FaultyOptic combine their experience of physical theatre and puppetry and explore the worlds of 3d film animation, automata and mechanical sculpture to create their own unique style of theatre.

FaultyOptic are joined by writer and director Edward Carey, author of novels 'Observatory Mansions' and 'Alva and Irva' and musician and composer Daniel Padden of 'Volcano the Bear' and the 'One Ensemble of Daniel Padden'


Special thanks to: Jim Lister- additional directional assistance, hospital tales and leg xrays, Sue Tongue-tour admin, Michael Addison- narration and foley, Lars Jensen- technical manager, Nicki Taylor- production photos, Amelia- more xrays. Extra special thanks to Studio Theatre, Leeds Met University.

Press Reviews for Horsehead

The Guardian Newpaper

Lyn Gardner 17.01.06 Horsehead ICA, London

For almost 20 years the theatre animation company Faulty Optic has been living up to its name. Experience one of this company's surreal shows, with their tiny animated objects and figures and live video installations, and you often feel as if you're seeing it through a splinter in the eye or, even more disturbingly, have mistakenly got stranded inside someone else's oddly wired brain.

There is a high level of the weird and the bizarre that has deservedly won Faulty Optic a cult following throughout Europe and the US. Their latest show, getting its London premiere courtesy of the London International Mime festival, doesn't buck the trend. Set in a decaying world - perhaps just before the first world war - it concerns a pantomime horse working in burlesque. The show gallops backwards and forwards in time to recount the events that led to the antihero being incarcerated in a mental hospital suffering from terrible diarrhoea. Along the way, it takes in mutilation and obsession, and offers a murderous clown in the theatre of war as well as an intimate insight into the decomposition of a body. It is touched by the terrible tenderness of the terminally broken and damaged.

The flashbacks can be a trifle hard to follow and, as ever, the company is stronger on atmosphere than it is on narrative. The storytelling can be awkward, but not so the sound track by Daniel Padden of the band Volcano the Bear, which is quite extraordinary, It burrows into your brain and conjures imaginary times and places that seem intimately connected to the real historical world of early 20th-century London. Strange, surreal and curiously affecting.


The Observer

Susannah Clapp 22.01.06 Horsehead ICA, London SW1

So Long, Sooty. Faulty Optic's gruesome figures take puppetry to the cutting edge. Just think twice before taking the children. YOU NEED TO abandon your preconceptions. Puppets are cutting-edge. Over the last few years, they've started to appear all over the stage: mixing with humans, as in Shockheaded Peter, or starring in their people-free shows. They're more often big and scary than friendly and made from felt. Nowhere more so than in the shows of Faulty Optic, first formed nearly 20 years ago and now attracting an international cult following.

Everything about FO is disconcerting. They mix different modes: leather puppets, mechanical objects like scrap sculpture, videos that are filmed as you watch, pre-recorded film, a human commentator. They play giddy tricks with scale: some of the figures are 10 inches, some twice as big; their tiny figures are moved around a large stage. They are gruesome and never sweet: even the ICA can't ever before have seen a diarrhoea-stricken puppet on the lavatory.

FO's new show, Horsehead (or The Rise and Fall of the Back and Front), is shown as part of the London International Mime Festival. The story, a broken-backed affair, presents itself as the sad tale of a pantomime horse, but is actually a series of gruesome vignettes which show the world going to hell in a handbasket. It's a kind of puppet 'Wasteland'.

Daniel Padden, from the band Volcano the Bear, creates an insidious, disturbing soundscape - some organ music, some Kathleen Ferrier, some keening and lugubrious murmuring.

Behind the puppets, you can occasionally make out their manipulating minders, shrouded from head to toe in black like mourning beekeepers. But most of the time the rubber-limbed creatures seem to be self-animated.

A long-limbed (as long as you can be when you're about a foot high) acrobat climbs to the top of a pole; her thighs shake with fear; and then suddenly she's off, spinning freely at the top of a glitter ball. In a hospital ward, a red-faced beaky puppet nurse reels away from her green faced patient's bad breath, while not far away, a tiny bug-eyed menial lurches around with his trolley and gigantic mop.

The most macabre, upsetting and funniest scene is projected on to a video screen. Our horse hero is dying. You see the sad face in close-up and watch the lustrous eye roll up. Then you hear the pounding of masses of tiny insect feet: a horde of maggots have got whiff of a food opportunity. One little beast skids across the floor in the excitement; what follows takes puppets into a region of horror which would make Sooty poo in his pants: Andy and Teddy are definitely waving goodbye.


Total Theatre magazine

by Dorothy Max Prior

Faulty Optic's darkly humorous productions always have a nightmarish quality. Horsehead has many features familiar from earlier shows which combine to create the desired effect: knobbly, cranky puppet characters trapped in Beckett-esque no-man-landscapes; eerie electronic soundscapes punctuated with odd clunks and hums; a switch from live puppet action to a mix of live and filmed-live-before-your-eyes video, giving the viewer a displaced double experience that plays with scale and notions of what is 'real' in the field of perception; Heath Robinson-inspired sets full of ingenious whirring and whizzing moving parts.

But in their latest production, Faulty Optic up the ante - introducing us to Horsehead, who is half a pantomime horse and destined to become one of the most deeply, darkly, disturbing nightmare characters of all time. The love interest is provided by a pole-dancing puppet girl who has an unfortunate accident and, following a grotesque amputation, becomes the other half of the horse.

Think the shadow side of the Ahlbergs' Mr and Mrs Hay the Horse; think mutilated Muffin the Mule (another half-horse of course) as viewed through a bad acid trip; think of all your childhood nightmares about toys, clothes and other inanimate objects coming to life at night (I will never look a hobby-horse in the eye again). Oh please let me wake up...

We meet Horsehead on screen, alive and kicking, and later dead and maggot-ridden in a wonderful scene that has something of a Swankmeyer quality; we encounter Horsehead on stage as a lumpy-pillow animated head, and most menacingly as a mask-puppet-human hybrid, towering terrifyingly over the inmates of a sanatorium.

A break with Faulty Optic tradition comes in the use of an onstage narrator cum sound-effects man, who gives an appropriate Victorian sideshow feel to the production: Horsehead fits well with the current theatrical preoccupation with burlesque, variety and circus as metaphor and source material, and in its odd and twisted way adds commentary to the question of the role of the freak within popular entertainment forms. There are a few (unintentionally) clunky moments here and there, and sometimes the pace is a little slacker than it could be, but this I am sure is just because it is very early days for this new show, not due to any intrinsic problems with the dramaturgy of the piece.

With an appearance at the London International Mime Festival (January 2006) on the horizon, Faulty Optic's Horsehead will I'm sure be galloping off to great future success after this early outing in Brighton. Fantastic stuff - a trip into the darkest recesses of our collective popular culture psyche.