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Equus (OFS Studio, Oxford)

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars
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Think of Peter Schaffer’s Equus and what springs to mind is a naked Daniel Radcliffe making his debut on the West End stage. But now this dark, psychological piece of drama has made its way to the OFS under the capable direction of Anna Hextall, and proves a competent student production with some moments of brilliance. And yes, for those who were wondering, there will be full-frontal nudity.

The plot follows dissatisfied psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, as he attempts to probe the troubled psyche of Alan Strang, a disturbed seventeen year-old guilty of violently blinding six horses. Told through a series of conversations and flashbacks, a tale of religious and sexual perversion slowly unfolds, gathering pace and tension until reaching a startling climax at the close of each act.

The cast dealt well with many of the difficulties of the script, making the retrospective narrative come alive through flashbacks and contrapuntal voices. The simple space and minimal set were used well with scene changes being for the most part rapid and fluid although it did suffer from the few hiatuses that did occur. The best of the production revolved around the scenes with Strang, played brilliantly by Joe Murphy. He convincingly conveyed all aspects of this extremely complicated and multifaceted character, veering from gormless defensiveness to violent rage, humour to anguished pathos. His scenes were the most energetic and compelling of the play, and those with the horses were certainly the most dramatic and spectacular. Lighting, sound and the eerie masked horse-chorus worked well together to create strong visuals, although at other times the lighting was a little erratic and the horse chorus a little uncoordinated – problems which will hopefully be ironed out as the run progresses.

Edward Fortes was strong as Dysart and was shown to the best advantage when interacting with the other characters, particularly as a foil to Strang. He made a good effort at his numerous and rather lengthy monologues but struggled to stop them from sometimes being just a little static and flat. Credit is also due to Helen Slaney and Tim Kieley who were both brilliant as Strang’s misguided parents and to Elizabeth Bichard’s very believable Hesther Saloman.

This production has certainly much to offer with some beautiful visual set pieces and some impressive acting which certainly compensate for the few technical hiccups or the occasional loss of pace or energy. It tells its story with just the right balance of sensitivity and sensation and the climatic horse scenes of each half are something to behold. I have every confidence that as the run continues, this production will resolve some of its problems and improve upon its strengths.

- Alice Fletcher


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