Performance review: All the Fraudulent Horse Girls, Trades Hall, Melbourne Fringe Festival

A queer coming-of-age production that involved a fever dream of horses and the novelist work of Cormac McCarthy.
Fradulent horse girls. Image is a young girl in a blue jumper, red and white stripey T-shirt below, and orange waistcoat with hands on her chest looking upwards in a pleading fashion, with horse pictures behind her.

Witty, surreal and genuinely fun, All the Fraudulent Horse Girls by Sydney playwright Michael Louis Kennedy was a feel-good tale that explored the “horse girl” – a well-known demographic whose profound passion for all things equine can alienate them from their peers. 

In the opening, we met Audrey, an 11-year-old horse girl – who ironically didn’t own a horse, but was telepathically connected to her fellow horse girls around the world. Our first encounter with her took place in her bedroom, pink (of course) and adorned with a mounting collection of horse paraphernalia, including a My Little Pony and a Shetland pony asthma puffer.

She flipped between dejection and excitement, informing the audience of her admiration for a certain long-legged character from The Saddle Club and Scarlett Johansson. Bullied by three other horse girls –who also didn’t own horses – Audrey began to unravel, taking solace in Cormac McCarthy’s All the Pretty Horses. 

The real fun started after Audrey was struck in the head by a police horse, propelling her into a fever-dream across the Mexican desert, inspired by McCarthy’s western novel. In this sequence a new actor portrayed Audrey, and a young John Grady Cole, the protagonist of McCarthy’s work, encountered a kindred spirit in the form of a horse also named John Grady Cole.

What unfolded was essentially the condensed plot of McCarthy’s novel, warped, heightened, and sans the kidnappings and jail time. A third actor soon stepped in to hear the wisdom of Emma Stone (the horse, not the actor); it was a sweet moment of revelation for Audrey’s character as she neared the end of her hero’s journey. 

The metamorphosis of the horse girls was well-executed, with all three iterations blending seamlessly into a unified character while still preserving their distinct personalities. One drawback, however, was the exaggerated yelling during the monologues – undoubtedly an intentional choice to embody the shrillness of pre-teen passion – which could have been pared back to better work alongside the intimacy of the venue. It was actually the quieter moments – the moody chuckles and glares into the audience – that more effectively captured the intensity and freneticism of their hyper-fixation. 

While there was bountiful silliness throughout, from horse puns to cleverly placed jokes that spun back later in the narrative, part of this reviewer wished that the play had pushed further into the surrealism – more physicality, more music, more mayhem.

Even so, All the Fraudulent Horse Girls did what it promised – it simultaneously brought joy and tugs at the heartstrings. It emerged as not only a queer coming-of-age story, but also an exploration of friendship and the natural, but painful, evolution of our once all-consuming obsessions.

More broadly, the play highlighted how isolating having a niche passion can be, particularly as a young person. This relatability and accessibility made it appealing even to those who may not share the same level of horse obsession.

Read: Opera review: The Visitors, Arts Centre Melbourne

Still, for those who dabbled in The Saddle Club or still remember a surprising number of lyrics from Nicky Webster’s ‘Strawberry Kisses’, this one was mostly for you. 

All the Fraudulent Horse Girls
Trades Hall
Directed by: Mitchell Whelan
Written by: Michael Louis Kennedy

All the Fraudulent Horse Girls was performed 18-22 October as part of Melbourne Fringe Festival.

Nina Culley is a writer and horror enthusiast based in Naarm. She’s the Studio Manager and Director of Melbourne Young Writers' Studio where she also teaches creative writing. Her works have appeared in Kill Your Darlings, Aniko Press and Eureka Street.