At some point in all our working lives we wonder if our job is actually worth it. Now, for most of us, that moment of doubt isn’t a problem but, imagine if you were a highly respected psychiatrist specialising in working with troubled children, those doubts may have profound impact. This is what I consider to be the central theme of Peter Shaffer’s epic disturbing play “Equus” which is currently playing the The Judi Dench Playhouse in Ealing.
Dr Martin Dysart (John Dobson) is a child psychiatrist working in a hospital. He’s been doing the job for a while – too long maybe – and now local magistrate Hesther Salomon (Maggie Turner) has a new patient for him, a young lad that came before her bench charged with a pretty heinous crime. The boy in question is 17 year old Alan Strang (Nick Thomas) and his crime, deliberately blinding six horses in a local stables owned by Harry Dalton (Robert Gordon Clark). Hester wants two things of Martin – firstly to know why Alan did his deed and secondly for Alan to cure the teenager so that he can be returned to society as a ‘normal’ boy. Although this seems like a tall order, Martin agrees and with the help of Alan’s nurse (Elena Zagaglia) sets out to win the trust of the boy and find out his story. Initially, Alan is reluctant to talk – merely singing advertisement jingles in answer to the doctor’s questions – but slowly Dysart get through to him and learns of his life. His parents – oppressive, highly religious mother Dora (Lisa Day) and atheist, domineering father, Frank (Robert Vass) – and his workmate Jill (Jessica Moat). Using various techniques – ‘tricks’ Alan calls them – Martin gets to learn about Alan’s increasing relationship with horses, starting from his first ever ride on one and going on until his final act against them. He realises the depth of Alan’s ‘feelings’ for the horses and questions his own ability and right to ‘cure’ the boy.
One of the things you realise quite quickly is that “Equus” is essentially a two-hander and the relationship between Martin and Alan is the thing that can kill the show or make it an amazing piece of theatre. Director Simon Rudkin has found two outstanding actors in John Dobson and Nick Thomas and their relationship is perfect in every respect making this a really awesome version of the play. That isn’t to overlook the other actors, all of whom are essential to the story and performed brilliantly. On stage continually, observing the action – human representation of the six horses that Alan feels are watching him leading to his final breakdown. I have, of course not yet mentioned the horses (Jamie king, Angus Duke and Eamon Yates) with whom Alan forms his special bond. There are many ways of portraying the horses and, without giving too much away, they are truly fantastic in this production. Tall, stately and ultimately beautiful, their presence is one of power and majesty and impossible not to admire.
“Equus” is an odd play in many respects. Most people don’t realise that Peter Shaffer first penned the piece in 1973 and this is probably because it has stood the test of time so well. It is of its time and very much of the present. Although there is no mention of the Internet or mobile phones, they aren’t missing and indeed if anyone did a rewrite to bring the play up to date, I really think it would take something away from the story as a whole. There are many themes within the play. Religion, ritual, delusion, conflicts of teaching, sexual naivety, and self-doubt to name but a few. This production by The Questors picks up on all these and more,
“Equus” is not a show that is for the feint hearted. This is a highly charged, emotional story that is gripping in the extreme. There is bad language, nudity, themes of a sexual nature and horrific violence but, and this really is important, none of this is there to shock for its own sake. Everything that happens, is meticulously planned to add another layer to this incredible story. Cast, direction, costumes together with excellent lighting and sound by Tim Hayward and Christopher Smith all combine to make this production of “Equus” a really fantastic theatrical experience that will stay with you for a long, long time.
Review by Terry Eastham
The Questors present Equus by Peter Shaffer
Psychiatrist Martin Dysart is confronted with the case of Alan Strang, a boy convicted of blinding six horses in a violent fit of passion. As Dysart begins to unwrap the circumstances leading to these disturbing events, he finds his own values and insecurities challenged by the case.
Exploring themes around religion, sex and ritual, Peter Shaffer’s theatrical masterpiece was successfully revived in 2008 with successful runs in the West End and on Broadway, famously starring Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths.
Suitable for ages 16+
Contains flashing lights, theatrical violence, explicit sexuality and nudity, and stage smoking
11th April – 18th April 15
In the Judi Dench Playhouse
Sunday 12th April 2015