Trafalgar Studios, London – until 7 September 2019
Ned Bennett’s thrillingly engaging production of Peter Shaffer’s play grabs the audience’s attention and imagination brilliantly.
Most famously revived a few years ago, with Daniel Radcliffe taking on the role of the deeply disturbed role of Alan Strang, this latest revival of Peter Shaffer’s psychological play is as equally chilling as it is fascinating to watch as the story begins to unravel.
Equus follows psychologist Martin Dysart as he attempts to discover the motive behind Alan Strang’s disturbing crime of blinding six horses. But as the fragile relationship between patient and doctor begins to grow, Dysart is forced to delve deep into his own life and his motivations both professionally and personally. It is a deeply fascinating play to watch unfold, particularly as the psychologist begins to uncover Alan’s confused world of spirituality, love of horses and sexuality – the tension begins to take hold very quickly to keep the audience hypnotised.
However, it does have to be said that it is extremely wordy, throwing in big issues including religion and class that don’t feel explored properly or at times don’t fit into the main structure of the story. There are moments when it feels as though it is trying to be too clever – such as when Dysart visits Alan’s parents, delving into a deep conversation about religion that lingers too long. But yet there are other moments in which also lack conviction – particularly during more confrontational scenes that don’t quite ring true in the dialogue.
But this doesn’t diminish the power of Ned Bennett’s excellently judged production. Everything from Georgia Lowe’s strikingly simple set design that gives a real sense of Alan’s isolation from the world to Jessica Hung Han Yun’s powerfully effective lighting – particularly seen during Alan’s terrifying dream – enhances the story and the overall atmosphere to chilling effect. Bennett delves deep into the psychological nature of the play and successfully immerses the audience fully into the experience.
What really impresses and surprises about this production however is how physical it all is. Thanks to Shelley Maxwell’s incredibly imaginative and exciting choreography and movement direction, as seen in the way in which the cast accurately represent horses, every element of movement has a precise purpose.
The cast all manage to hold their own, with Zubin Varla’s performance as Martin Dysart highlighting how his character is equally as complicated as his patient, Ethan Kai’s tightly wound Alan Strang keeping the audience guessing on how he is going to react and Norah Lopez-Holden’s spirited performance as Jill, all of whom are compelling to watch.
In a world in which mental health plays a major part, this play has perhaps a different kind of relevance for audiences in 2019 in comparison to when it was first written, highlighted to great effect in Ned Bennett’s chillingly atmospheric production.
By Emma Clarendon
Equus continues to play at the Trafalgar Studios until the 7th September. To book tickets click here or visit: Love Theatre.com, See Tickets, Theatre Tickets Direct, From the Box Office or Encore Tickets.