Writer Ian Hallard on trapping a married couple and a sex worker in a dungeon for enlightening new play

David Ames & Matt Lapinskas in rehearsals for Horse-Play.

After a decade of marriage, a couple book into a sex dungeon for an evening with a male escort.

That’s the gist of Horse-Play, written by Ian Hallard and starring David Ames and Jake Maskall as couple Tim and Tom. It’s not long before everything starts to go wrong – their night of fun quickly descends into chaos.

“The one-line pitch is, ‘a gay couple hire an escort for the evening and they all get locked in a sex dungeon for 24 hours’,” Ian tells PinkNews. “It’s basically them working through all the various obstacles that happen in order for them to escape with hilarious consequences.”

The idea for Horse-Play came to Hallard during the first COVID-19 lockdown. At first he wanted to write a play about a gay man who finds himself in hot water when his partner dies during a bondage session.

“Then the other guy is just stuck there, which obviously in reality would be a fairly alarming experience,” Ian laughs. “But it has comic potential – what would happen in that scenario?”

Horse-Play is a little different to that initial idea – as he wrote the play, Hallard realised he wanted to create something that would portray kink and fetish in a carefree way.

He wanted it to be far-removed from the overly-serious depictions of sex usually seen – where role play is portrayed as “something alien and scary and something people should be frightened of”.

David Ames and Jake Maskall in Horse-Play rehearsals.

David Ames and Jake Maskall in Horse-Play rehearsals. (Danny Kaan)

“Actually, it’s just what people do,” Ian says. ‘Hopefully there’s a strong message of tolerance through it. Hopefully the play treads a fine line between not making fun of it while also saying, there is something absurd about any kind of role play, but there is something fairly ridiculous about sex in the first place if you actually think about what it entails.”

People like to be spanked.

It’s this exploration of kink that drew Holby City’s David Ames to the project.

“It’s so often portrayed as this seedy, dirty underworld that no one knows about,” David says. 50 Shades of Grey brought kink into the mainstream, but it didn’t necessarily do much to move the conversation forward.

“It’s not quite this hideous underbelly of Vauxhall or wherever, it’s just that people like a bit of role play, they like to be spanked.”

Ian hopes kink and fetish communities, and queer people within those cohorts, will go and see Horse-Play – but he also expects it to resonate with audiences from all backgrounds.

“You don’t have to have any knowledge or interest in that world. What I’m really hoping is we’ll have a lovely meeting or mixture of the two, just a regular theatre-going audience who might go to see Noises Of or The Play That Goes Wrong. The play is very much in that world – but with dildos,” Ian laughs.

“I suppose if you are exceptionally narrow-minded this is not for you, but as long as you have a fairly healthy, curious attitude towards sex then you could come along and hopefully you’ll be educated a bit.”

David Ames (foreground) and Matt Lapinskas (background) in rehearsals for Horse-Play.

David Ames (foreground) and Matt Lapinskas (background) in rehearsals for Horse-Play. (Danny Kaan)

Just as it tries to normalise kink, the play also sets out to show how sex workers are just like any other kind of worker – they need to earn money so they can pay their rent.

“They’re everyday people, especially in a world of OnlyFans and of people utilising their own nudity as opposed to giving money to huge porn companies or something like that,” David says.

“People are taking that on themselves and saying, ‘No, I’m going to control this’. It’s very interesting to raise those subjects with people and to show how pedestrian it is for some people.”

Ian Hallard isn’t ‘evangelical’ about gay actors in gay roles

Because Horse-Play delves so heavily into the world of kink and fetish, Ian wanted to make sure it wouldn’t come off as “sleazy” or “exploitative”.

“Bizarrely there’s a sort of innocence to it I think, a certain sweetness within the relationship – those are the characters and a lot of the humour comes out of that.”

To fully realise that relationship on stage, Ian knew he had to find the perfect cast. Right at the start, he and the play’s casting director discussed whether they should only be looking for queer actors for the leads.

“Both Andrew Beckett, who’s the director, and I both said, ‘well no, not exclusively’. I don’t feel evangelical about the issue of only casting queer actors in queer roles, although I very much do get the whole argument as to why historically, those roles have been denied to queer actors and there should be a rebalancing and a redressing of that.”


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Ian has seen straight actors be “terrible” in queer roles, but he’s also seen them be “brilliant” when the conditions are right.

“As long as they’re right for the part then I have no objection.”

That’s not to say it was all totally clear cut – Ian struggled to imagine a straight actor “inhabiting” Tim “as successfully as a queer actor would”. David is gay, which gave him an advantage in winning the role.

“There’s just a sensibility… it’s not camp necessarily, although that is an element to it. I think it just boils down to authenticity, you look at someone and go, ‘yeah, that is that person’.”

As the show opens, both Ian and David are hopeful Horse-Play will make people laugh, but also that it might inspire some conversations about sex, bodies and kink.

“I love the fact that a lot of my friends quite openly discuss these things,” David says. “That’s what this does. It opens that conversation out.

“It takes away that dark mystique of sex and just makes everyone laugh at it.”

Horse-Play runs at Riverside Studios Theatre from Tuesday, 30 August to Saturday, 24 September. Tickets are available here. 


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