Short Term Listings
BOOKS and CDs
LETTERS TO EDITOR
Writing for Us
A CurtainUp Review
London review by by Lizzie Loveridge
Of course it is also a brave choice because Equus has a scene with nudity and explicit sex which has to make the production off limits for very young Potter fans. But Radcliffe is a professional and seems unfazed by all the attention that the press has focussed on the nudity. At least we are spared the sight of Richard Griffiths in the altogether although he does go in for a stripping away of his mind as Martin Dysart reflects on what he feels is the pretence of being some sort of expert in human behaviour. As a play I think Equus is less shocking and less effective than when I first saw it at the National in 1973 but I am sure that is because the subject matter was then completely unknown.
What the play is not a suitable vehicle for is the kind of star, celebrity quality the young Radcliffe has attached to him. His part is about a deeply disturbed boy whose behaviour is at once inexplicable, pagan and brutal. The audience does not need to be well-disposed to him. They do not need to like him or to laugh too enthusiastically at his jokes. So his very celebrity works against the ethos of Shaffer's play. This is not the actor's fault but that of a celebrity soaked audience. To give an example where an actor's star quality can be incorporated into a play, take The Iceman Cometh starring Kevin Spacey. Many of the early scenes are filled with anticipation as they talk about the imminent arrival of Spacey's character thus harnessing the excitement both of the appearance of the character and of Spacey himself.
Having said this, the opening scene of each act features an evocative low lit montage of Alan Strang (Radcliffe's character), his back to us, standing, his arm stretched up, holding the neck of a horse, Nugget (Will Kemp). We see the muscles on the boy's bare back and those on the horse. These scenes convey the worship the boy has for the horse in a quiet moment . As Dysart tells us he would stand like this, embracing Nugget for a long time.
The horses are the natural stars of the show. Mostly played by dancers, the experts in movement and led by one of Matthew Bourne's stars from Swan Lake, Will Kemp, their presence on stage captures the imagination as they whinny and stamp their hooves but not too much so. They are above all beautiful, majestic creatures and we can see why the young Alan Strang fell in love with them.
Richard Griffiths' portrait of the cerebral and concerned Dysart is effortless acting. He is a consummate professional and totally convinces as his character, losing his own personality to become Martin Dysart. He isn't afraid to stumble occasionally as the real psychiatrist would as he thinks about what he is saying. The play is as much about the imperfect science of the mind as it is about the boy and Griffiths excels in these reflective roles. He takes acting to new heights of realism. I was also very taken with Will Kemp's cameo as the beach rider, the Young Horseman, who takes the six year old Alan for his first horse ride much to the consternation of Alan's parents.
The set is endlessly flexible, monochrome, a black surround with a series of white boxes that can be rearranged as a bed , as chairs, as a desk, or as stable furniture. The horses stand in their stalls circling the stage. The lighting is atmospheric and, as in the original, some of the audience are set above the rear of the stage as if a jury watching courtroom proceedings. I suspect that Thea Sharrock's direction is true to the original as are the designs of the steel framed horse heads and raised metal shoe frames for the actors to sound hooves.
I see that Equus is destined for New York, presumably with its two main stars intact and I suspect that young Daniel Radcliffe will wow them there as he has wowed them here. Whatever will he do next after this theatrical horseplay?