Review: Equus – Chapter Arts Centre, Cardiff
Reviewed by Sam Pryce
In this bare-boned, minimalist production, the ideas and themes of Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play of a boy’s profound worship of horses are put to the forefront. The play is not upstaged by any ostentatious dance interludes nor shadowed by innovative set pieces. This company provide a stripped-back, viscerally passionate performance of a play rife with psychological depth and emotional complexity.
Although one can delve into an intricate analysis of the motives of each character, the plot is fairly simple when laid bare. Martin Dysart, an initially cynical psychiatrist, is given the task of taking on Alan Strang, a 17 year-old boy who blinded six horses with a metal spike. On probing Strang’s intentions, Dysart is bewildered to comprehend him when learning of his conflicted familial life – a Marxist father fully informed of the world’s injustice and a devoutly religious mother eager to teach Strang the enriching security of ‘worship’, something that Dysart envies. As Strang becomes more and more frank as the sessions progress, the psychiatrist begins to contemplate his own sanity and realises the tragedy of his sexless marriage and absence of compassion. What emerges is a fascinating, multi-faceted and disturbing study of the human mind.
With a play so rich in emotion, it requires some accomplished actors. Passionate, powerful performances are given by the two leads: Steven Smith magnificently depicts the anguished, troubled genius of Dysart while Henry Nott superbly unsettles with his cold stare racked with perturbed purity. Under Thomas Hockey’s direction, the relationship progresses from firstly icy and distant to fervently parental. Other notable performances are given by Paul Fanning and Trish Gould as Strang’s taciturn parents, Trish Murphy as the concerned magistrate, Angharad Hodgetts as the seductive stable-girl, Alexander Wilson as a few comical characters and James Sidwell as the subject of the boy’s infatuation, portraying equine splendour with startling accuracy.
Equus can be seen to explore themes ranging from religious corruption to repressed sexuality, even the coming-of-age and adolescence. And yes, all these themes may sound slightly intimidating, but the emotional stamina of the cast, the meticulousness of the direction and the nuanced choreography ensure a gorgeously disturbing experience. It’s a splendid revival and surely one to see before the week is out.
And just to close, with all that shouting, let’s hope the actors’ voices don’t get too hoarse! (Sorry, I had to.)