Equus was first produced in 1973 starring a young Peter Firth (now older and wiser in Spooks on BBC television) and was such a hit that it transferred to the West End and later made into a film. The play was recently revived in London and on Broadway with Daniel Radcliffe making his stage debut as Alan Strang.
Alan has blinded six horses and through a series of scenes the play traces what led to these attacks. The story unfolds with all the tension of a thriller, a sort of ‘whydunnit’, but there is far more depth to the play than this in Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist is forced to consider his own life. Is Alan Strang alive and well despite his cruel actions whereas he is living an arid life devoid of any passion - as the boy says “At least I galloped when did you?”
The set is stunning in its simplicity managing to combine all the intimacy required for this claustrophobic drama together with the majestic feel of Greek tragedy. The stone benches are used with great skill by the director who plots the action with pleasing visual images and the horses heads are absolutely amazing; always a presence there of magnificent power.
Act One is rather muted and played at too even a pace so at times the script fails to ignite and it is not until Alan Strang first displays his passion for Equus that the play springs into dramatic life. The second half fares much better and the scene between Jill and Alan when we see what led to the terrible action is played with such conviction that the whole audience is riveted into total silence.
Matthew Pattimore gives a tremendous performance as the troubled boy moving easily from arrogant perverse communication to such passionate heights. There is excellent support from Helen Phillips as the warm and understanding Jill and Carole Dance brings to the fore the caring, intelligent magistrate who can see further than just doling out punishment.
Malcolm James as Dysart gives an unselfish performance of quiet power as we see him come to terms with the realisation of the sterility of his life. At the end he conveys the anger and the despair but perhaps there is room to show more pain as well.
Equus has the power to enthral and to make you think and this production certainly manages to do that.
- Richard Woodward