Repeatedly revived across film and stage, directors have been perennially attracted to Peter Shaffer's unsettling 1973 psycho-drama about a teenager who blinds six stable horses; a story made all the more complex as religious icons, classical gods and equine erotica infiltrate the play to up the outré. After five-star reviews at Theatre Royal Stratford East, Ned Bennett's new production has transferred to the West End for a limited run this summer and has given Shaffer’s text a fresh new life through minimalist set design and stunning physical theatre.
No doubt the greatest strength of this vigorous production is the decision to do away with puppets or props and instead use actors to portray the horses – a choice which powerfully brings the homoerotic undertones lurking in text onto the stage. Ira Mandela Siobhan is phenomenal as ‘Nugget’ the proud chestnut/horse god Equus as he twists his body, quivers his muscles and clenches his fists to transform into a virile, noble animal before the audience's eyes.
Ethan Kai is both fascinating and repellant as the troubled 17-year-old Alan Strang, whose seething, kurt responses suggest a whole can of worms that you’re at once itching and scared to open. Zubin Varla is wonderfully droll as the frustrated classical historian and devoted psychiatrist Doctor Dysart, whose pensive ruminations about his patient persuade the audience to question what is lost when we ask misfits such as Strang to conform to sexual or societal mores: 'Passion, you see, can be destroyed by a doctor. It cannot be created.'
Also praiseworthy is the production's contrast between the mundane and the monumental as a key point of tension. The fustiness of '70s suburban England is conjured through trite, beige costumes and robotic character types which clash with the dark, atavistic forces at play to culminate in a climax that is equal parts devastating and rapturous. Bennett should be applauded for evoking so much emotion using so little.
|What||Equus, Trafalgar Studios review|
|Where||Trafalgar Studios, 14 Whitehall, London, SW1A 2DY | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Charing Cross (underground)|
06 Jul 19 – 07 Sep 19, 7:30 PM – 9:30 PM
|Website||Click here for more information and tickets|