Careful is the one-woman show of musician Horse McDonald, and it is a piece of history. I mean that in the best way. It’s essentially an autobiography in an hour of growing up in Lanark in the 1970s, and the anecdotes are eclectic: an attempted abduction when Horse was eight or nine, to grappling with her own sexuality and gender identity, to how she chose her name, to when she met her wife. But to say that it’s just a series of recollections is to do Careful an injustice. Bookended with an anecdote about a Stonewall gig at the Royal Albert Hall, Careful is a show about role models: about not having them, and about growing into oneself anyway and becoming one. “Careful” is not just the name of Horse’s most famous song and nor even is it just about the evasion of childhood bullies. Carefully, with care, is how Horse McDonald has turned into herself.
The staging is simple, consisting of two armchairs (“a mum chair and a dad chair”) and a table with a framed photo of Horse’s parents. It’s explicitly symbolic, of a person finding herself somewhere between the masculine and the feminine, pacing from one side of the stage to the other as the moment demands it. But it’s also a reminder of Horse’s own family, and how you don’t always have to completely understand a person to support them.
The idea of having a voice looms large – “I was silent growing up,” she says, “and mostly for the benefit of others.” In one anecdote, Horse mentions losing her voice completely after an operation. She jokes, “The label for someone who can’t speak should be ‘tolerant’.” You get the sense of a woman who’s learned a lot of things, over a long time, and for whom empathy is second nature.
That’s even clearer in the second half, when the lights come up, and Horse and her director Maggie Kinloch settle in for a Q&A session. They’re considering touring Careful around schools, for the benefit of teachers and students alike – and particularly students who haven’t yet come out. Horse is more at ease chatting, and the conversation is wide-ranging, from the technical to the philosophical. Both Horse and Kinloch are articulate and knowledgeable. “I was expecting more singing,” says one audience member – and, truth be told, so was I. But there are a few songs, in and amongst the conversation. In case you weren’t sure, she’s bloody good.
Careful is much more than a record of Horse’s life. When she speaks about being in the crowd in 2014 when the Scottish Parliament voted on equal marriage, Careful feels like it traces how we – the audience, the village in Lanark, and Scotland – got here. It’s an exhortation to be thankful, and a reminder to keep going.
Photo by Kris Kesiak.