Equus divides opinion

CONSTANCE CHAPMAN AND LOUIS SHANKAR couldn’t quite agree on what they thought of Equus so they thought they’d give you both sides. One thing that they did agree on is that this show is well worth a watch.

ADC Cambridge Equus Theatre

Peter Shaffer’s Equus is a deeply psychological tragedy branded as one of the most controversial plays of the twentieth century. Jonah Hauer-King plays the deranged Alan Strang, a boy guilty of blinding six horses and who has been sent to psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Ben Walsh) for treatment.

Louis: Ben Walsh was, in my view, the star of the show. He gave a phenomenal performance throughout, with nuance and complexity that made some of the other actors seem abrupt. His astonishing closing piece was perfectly delivered and will no doubt stay with me for a long time.

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

However, in Jonah’s overall performance, I found something lacking. It was perfectly strong but seemingly obvious and often anachronistic; Alan’s ‘direct stare’, imbued with deep symbolism, was missing. Overall, it missed a certain psychological depth and subtlety. I’m unsure if this was a problem with the casting or a deliberate choice by either actor or director.

Connie: I completely agree that Ben’s performance stole the show, his voice was calm, tempered and implied maturity beyond his years. He embodied the middle aged man, frustrated with the monotony of his life, with startling ease. I think, however, that Jonah too deserves more credit for carrying off such a complex role. The tension that pulsed through his body from start to finish was uncomfortable to watch for all the right reasons. His tormented mind was shown brilliantly through his agitated physicality.

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

Louis: The cast as a whole was very strong. Clearly, a lot of rehearsal time had been well used. The chorus’ omnipresence was superfluous at times but when they were used well, they shone. A lot of work had gone into the blocking and the choreography: the horse-riding parts were executed with precision and flair. A mention should be given to Max Roberts for his thoroughly horse-like performance as Nugget.

Connie: The use of the chorus for chants and sound-scaping was a fantastic directorial decision by Pete Skidmore and one which brought a vital atmosphere to the stage.

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

Louis: So let’s get to the elephant (horse?) in the room: the nudity. I personally found it unnecessary (it feels strange to write that in The Tab). I thought that, due to the expressionist nature of the production, it would have been a bolder and more fitting directorial decision to deliberately exclude the naked bits (despite its inclusion in the script). Instead, it felt like a way to get marketing and publicity – and the whispers/mutters of the audience added an unfortunate awkwardness.

Connie: I couldn’t disagree more! Unfortunately, the hype around the nudity in the production has made it a bigger deal than necessary. Nudity is written into the script because it is in keeping with the primitive and sexual themes in the play and is therefore warranted. It was well-blocked, tastefully done and beautifully lit.

On that note, the lighting throughout the show was stunning, congratulations must go to Daniel Karaj.  This was the best lighting design I have ever seen in Cambridge, utilising red, green and purple gels to create an air of mystique around Alan, that contrasted with the Doctor’s plain wash. As scenes were relocated to different sections of the stage, the lighting refocused seamlessly which contributed to the overall smooth-running of the production.

Credit: Johannes Hjorth

Louis: The lighting was brilliant and the use of the timpani to create a complex atmosphere was genius. The set, while very competent, seemed to jar with the play itself. While the substance of the play involves Greek mythology and Christian faith, the set was a strangely Insular, Stonehenge-like structure.

Connie: This was an exceptionally strong cast, guided by a talented director which means that Equus certainly lives up to expectation. Anyone who goes to see it is in for a real treat. 80%, a starred first.

Louis: Overall it is an undeniably accomplished show. Many of the details left me uncertain, though, as if it hadn’t quite realised its full potential. 66%, a strong 2.1

If you’re lucky enough to have got yourself a ticket, you can soon make up your own mind.