Horse takes centre stage to tell a story from the heart

Horse McDonald (Pic: Kris Kesiak)
Horse McDonald (Pic: Kris Kesiak)

To stand out at the Edinburgh Fringe, you have to have something special to offer.

With in excess of 2000 shows rolling across the city like a tidal wave, it is all too easy to get lost.

Horse McDonald in Careful

Horse McDonald in Careful

Taking a new show to the Fringe is always daunting, but for Horse McDonald, it was an incredible, and hugely uplifting triumph.

Careful is her story – so it made sense for her to tell it in this searingly open, and powerfully honest drama.

The four and five star reviews which followed were matched by nightly standing ovations.

A remarkable triumph for someone who had never acted before, let alone take on a one-woman show.

Anyone who has ever seen Horse perform will know she loves to chat, and her stories are often deeply personal.

But the leap from an introduction to a song, to mastering the art of stage craft was huge .

In early rehearsals, Maggie Kinloch, the director, was on the floor holding Horse by the ankles to make her stand still and not wander around the stage!

And then there is the story. Her story.

Horse was born in Newport on Tay but grew up in Lanarkshire.

Music was her salvation, her inspiration, and her route to a remarkable career that has seen her become one of this country’s most celebrated singers.

Fans who thought they knew her story inside out will leave this performance astounded at what she reveals; the depth of the turmoil and the bullying she endured while growing up gay at a time when role models were hard to find.

The dark moments are addressed with absolute, raw sincerity, but there is also the love of her parents – and they remain very much at the heart of the narrative – and memories of fun times growing up and finally finding her voice to become a leading figure and champion of LGBT equality.

The title is taken from her signature song – a soaring plea from the heart - but she barely sang a note in the original show.

Now it has been expanded from the rigid hour-long format required by the Fringe to embrace a Q&A and music from Horse.

She said: “One of the challenges we faced was telling people this was my life story without giving away too much about it, and also that it wasn’t a musical.

“And I also had to learn how to be an actor!

‘’Devouring 28 pages of dialogue was a nightmare – and I had to stick to the script! That was really, really hard.

‘‘The first shows were pretty much learning everything and doing it as well as we could.

‘‘Now it has gone to another level.’’

The step from singing to acting was huge, but the timing was right.

“I make albums and I tour and do lot of equality work, but it was time to challenge myself again,’’ said Horse.

“When it was suggested I do my life story, I said ‘no way!’ but the idea developed from there.’’

And it is very much a three-women production.

Horse worked with writer Lynne Ferguson, often Skyping ideas across the Atlantic, and honing the narrative, while Maggie came on board as director and is a key part of this current Scottish tour.

Since the Fringe, the show has developed a teachers’ resource pack so classes can discuss and find out more about LGBT rights and the issues raised in Careful.

It is something Horse is hugely proud of.

‘‘The pack has been requested by the police, by armed forces and by so many different people,’’ she said. ‘‘It shows how much has changed, and how quickly things have changed.

‘‘ It’s quite dramatic when you look at the timeline within it – so much has happened,” said Horse.

And the response to the play has thrilled her.

’I am loving it. It is exciting and nerve wracking,’’ she said.

‘’I know the piece now, and I am putting even more into it, and getting more out of it.

There is talk of taking the show into schools, while the Q&As have produced some amazing discussions between the star and her audiences.

There have been approaches from publishers to put her remarkable story into print.

But music remains her first love.

“I’m not giving up singing’’ she said. “It’s what I do ...”

>> Horse McDonald: Careful is at the Adam Smith Theatre on Thursday, April 20 as part of That’s Fife Festival. Ticket info from OnFife

>> Copies of the educational resource pack are available from maggiekinloch@hotmail.co.uk