Equus at Trafalgar Studios
Following its acclaimed run at Theatre Royal Stratford East, Peter Shaffer’s homoerotic thriller gallops into the West End and leaves a lasting impression. Inspired by real life events, Equus tells the story of Alan Strang, a teenage boy who blinded six horses with a metal spike, and the attempts of psychiatrist Martin Dysart to understand the reasons behind his horrific actions. The subtext of the play is homosexuality, self-expression, identity and our primal passions and how we manage them. The drama premiered in 1973 and whilst certain aspects of the script have inevitably grown somewhat dated, it’s these prominent themes and the captivating characters and compelling story that allow the work to remain relevant for a 2019 audience.
Ethan Kai as Alan well and truly leaves his mark here and asserts himself as an actor to watch. His vast talents in this complex and intricate role are demonstrated expertly. He conveys confusion, vulnerability, loneliness and pain almost effortlessly through his voice, facial expressions, gesture and body movements. Alan’s crime is heinous, yet Kai elicits empathy from the audience. Zubin Varla takes on the equally challenging role of Doctor Dysart with gusto. He portrays the psychiatrist as disturbed and arguably in as much need of psychological attention as his patient and this makes for an utterly engrossing performance, offering us a new take on the character that adds a further layer to this already rich play.
Shelley Maxwell’s choreography is sublime, with even the most intricate details of a horse’s movement expertly executed. Ira Mandela Siobhan’s performance of Nugget is particularly noteworthy but the ensemble as a whole provides us with strong visuals, demonstrating how physical theatre is capable of conveying so much in even the shortest of scenes and movements. Robert Fitch offers a perfectly nuanced performance as Alan’s oppressive father, Frank. He is utterly believable in this role and the scenes shared with wife Dora (Doreene Blackstock) allow for wonderful chemistry between the two. Keith Gilmore is convincing as stable owner Harry Dalton and Norah Lopez Holden is warm and inviting as Alan’s love interest, Jill, who again displays perfect chemistry with Kai. The cast is cohesive and it’s clear that a great deal of collaboration has been invested into the production.
The soundtrack, designed by Giles Thomas, is suitably haunting and Georgia Lowe’s simple and clinical set ensures all of our attention is on the story and the performances. Director Ned Bennett allows a fast pace with seamless scene transitions and the physical theatre of the ensemble makes for a powerful and evocative visual feast. Bennett has injected new life into the work, doing away with subtlety and making the homosexual connotations more overt, and this is certainly one of many artistic choices that pays off. This is a dark and haunting tale, yet the production is exhilarating, enthralling and exciting. Whilst the original is still remembered fondly, Bennett’s staging sets a new bar. There is nothing like this in the West End. It’s one ride you won’t want to miss.
Photos: The Other Richard
Equus is at Trafalgar Studios from 6th July until 7th September 2019. Book your tickets here.
Watch the trailer for Equus here: