Equus

Tue 27th – Sat 31st January 2015

reviews

Ellie Bishop

at 00:45 on 28th Jan 2015

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Long after the curtain closed on CUADC’s production of Equus, the audience were still reeling. Unafraid to shock, terrify and leave one feeling uncomfortable not only with the play but also with oneself, Pete Skidmore’s direction of Shaffer’s play, often considered one of the most controversial creations of the twentieth century, is one not to be missed.

The production’s uncomfortable nature is what renders it so powerful, and this is emphasised from the beginning through the show’s staging. With most of the action occurring on a central raised circle, yet with the protagonist Alan often cast to the corner, his physical isolation mirroring his internal seclusion, it generates the impression of intrusion. The scene is privately intimate and we are very clearly on the outside looking in, intervening on this portrayal of intense human grief and recovery. The audience are both literally and metaphorically distanced from the horror represented on stage, drawing attention to our naivety and assumption that we can leave the questions that the play raises behind. Similarly, the juxtaposition of moments of humour, which initially seemed slightly awkward and conspicuous, with the incredibly dark subject matter, intensify both the characters’ and our own reluctance to accept this sombre, pessimistic portrayal of society.

The two central performances, with Jonah Hauer-King as Alan Strang and Ben Walsh as Martin Dysart, were astonishing and, although one could be forgiven when reading the play for interpreting it as simply Alan’s story, this production instead emphasises the role of the psychiatrist so that, whilst the horrific act committed by the younger character still leads the play, the disappointment of adulthood and Dysart’s own questioning of what gives him the opportunity to judge those around him is brought more into focus. It sensitively raises concerns with our perception of age, and where our lives eventually bring us. There are moments that appear slightly obtuse and could have benefitted from more subtlety, with some scenes reminiscent of melodrama yet, in a play characterised by such appalling events, they are not out of place.

What is most extraordinary about the piece is its intelligent, thought provoking use of the chorus who, as they are on stage throughout, act as a reflection of the audience. Dressed in little more than rags and evoking the internal agony of the characters featured on stage, they appear tortured by what they are subjected to, demonstrating a human reaction to such horror in a paradoxically inhuman manner. Particularly of note are the masked horses, including Max Roberts as Nugget. Their physicality, incredibly choreographed, is encapsulating, with their movement perfectly evoking that of the tortured horses and drawing a clear connection between beast and the deteriorating state of man. There is no doubt that the production is a dark vision of the decay of the modern world and our loss of ability to appreciate the transient and the beautiful. Yet, the sheer power of the performances and the cohesion of the ensemble group in their support of the lead actors could even disprove the character Dysart’s final claim that “passion… cannot be created”; in this fantastic production, it certainly has been.

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Isobel Cockerell

at 10:19 on 28th Jan 2015

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There has been a lot of buildup surrounding the sold-out opening of Equus. This is in no small part due to the production’s brilliant publicity team, but possibly the prospect of the flint-eyed Jonah Hauer-King revealing all may have had a hand in it. People turned up to the ADC by the coachload.

Peter Schaffer’s 1973 play entered pop-culture consciousness a few years ago when it was put on by the Geilgud Theatre with Daniel Radcliffe cast as the lead. The hype in Cambridge has been its own micro version of that fanfare.

In practice, the play’s nudity is not its central aspect, nor is it the thing that’s remembered and talked about afterwards. The production managed to be so immersive, so all-consuming, that the nude scenes were simply a natural, inevitable progression.

The acting was sublime. The play is an incredible insight into the spiritual and religious impetus for what initially seems like a senseless act of cruelty. The show was carried almost in its entirety by Ben Walsh who plays the psychiatrist treating Alan Strang (Hauer-King) – a 17-year-old boy who has blinded six horses with a metal spike.

Walsh’s performance was easily the strongest. He handled his role with unmatched aptitude, without which the whole delicate structure of the play would have collapsed. Hauer-King’s portrayal was interesting and subtle. Strang is described within the play as having an unnerving ‘stare’ and while at first it seemed as though this wasn’t being lived up to, gradually it became clear the role was being approached in a far more delicate and understated way.

The supporting roles offered relief from the intense, heavily wrought main action. Jamie Webb, who played Strang’s father, seemed almost absurdly comical, and provided a sharp contrast to the dark main narrative, which was striking and interesting. Katurah Morrish, who plays the cut-glass love interest, was at first amusing, and then showed herself to be incredibly versatile with it.

The only slightly weak point in what was otherwise a fairly flawless cast was Georgie Henley’s portrayal of Strang’s mother. She overdid the role slightly, in a shouty and hysterical way. Compared to the delicately hung balance of the rest of the cast, she struck a slightly off note.

When the lights went black – the lighting, incidentally, was a particular triumph – the audience were left numbed and stunned. The production was one of incredible professionalism and achievement, and it certainly lived up to the hype.

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