Trafalgar Studios, London – until 7 September 2019
Equus remains a fascinating, if dated, piece of writing from Peter Schaffer. Exploring the psycho-sexual complexities of the adolescent Alan Strang, a boy who has just, horrifically, blinded six horses, Shaffer contexts the young man’s mental turmoil against the emotional and sexual failings of his psychiatrist Richard Dysart.
Done well, the play should offer a well-crafted glimpse into teenage angst, parental frailties together with the numbing realities of mid-life disappointment. In Ned Bennett‘s production, however, that arrives at the Trafalgar Studios from the Theatre Royal Stratford East, a strange fusion of magnificence and mediocrity permeates the evening.
Ethan Kai plays the troubled Strang and while he may appear perhaps a little too old to portray his teenage character, his performance nonetheless convinces. Kai captures Strang’s awkward dysfunctionality – a boy who’s more at ease with horses than with people – delivering a performance of intensity and energy.
Opposite Kai is Zubin Varla’s Dysart in a turn that fails to deliver the gravitas that the role demands. Varla is unable to carry us along with his revelations of the demons that surround his infertility and failing marriage. On stage virtually throughout, in what is unquestionably a demanding role Varla’s work is of a standard that is little more than “average” and for Shaffer’s prose that’s just not good enough.
The supporting roles are likewise workmanlike in their execution. With the exception of Norah Lopez-Holden’s Jill, Strang’s peer who befriends him, all the other characters prove too tedious as they flesh out Strang’s back story, making the 2hr 40min piece seem even longer.
To their credit, however, and with the exception of Varla and Kai, all the cast double up in their portrayal of the horses that Strang is to ultimately mutilate and under Shelley Maxwell’s movement direction, their equine interpretations are sensational. The immaculately sculpted Ira Mandela Siobhan plays Nugget, the “lead” horse in the stables in a masterclass of physical theatre. Maxwell delivers genius in her suggestions of the horses’ movement, that her company deliver immaculately.
Runs until 7th SeptemberPhoto credit: The Other Richard