Review: Theatre Group's Equus

Wednesday 30th October – 2nd November saw the Theatre group’s production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus – a performance as dark and intense as it was utterly encapsulating. The play tells […]


Wednesday 30th October – 2nd November saw the Theatre group’s production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus – a performance as dark and intense as it was utterly encapsulating.

The play tells the story of a psychiatrist who treats a teenager with a pathological fascination with horses, after he stabs six horses in the eye. His treatment of and involvement with the boy’s case results in him questioning his own sanity.

The play starts off with a monologue from the psychiatrist, played by Joel Jackson, who put on an intense performance. His relationship with the fabulous Judge, Alicia Dowsett, was well-established from the outset, as was that of his patient Alan Strang (Sam Dobson) who expressed his character’s constantly on-edge and troubled nature in an outstandingly consistent way. Dobson’s tense and rigid posture was convincing to the point of leaving the audience on the edge of their seats as to when he would burst. As the psychiatrist, Mr Dysart, delves deeper into Alan’s problems, so we meet Alan’s father and mother: they’ve given him a pretty sheltered upbringing what with his father not letting him watch TV and his mother’s deeply religious and conservative traditions – a hugely relevant aspect of his upbringing in relation to Alan’s mental health issues. Peewee Ward was highly convincing as the father, superbly representing his opinionated (yet also a bit socially awkward, especially regarding sex) character in a ‘propuh nurrthern’ accent that we weren’t sure was his natural one or not. Natalie Portman lookalike Aoife Thomas played his diplomatic and timid wife, who shone in a dramatic scene in which she went to visit her son in the hospital and he threw a tray at her.

After Strang’s parents get involved, the plot thickens as Mr Dysart receives a visit from the angry stable owner, played by Sam Everard. Everard was able to mimic the duties of a stable owner flawlessly, interacting with the human horses with minimal effort. The stable assistant Jill, played by Anna Williams, hinted at a seductive and saucy interior whilst guiding Strang through the daily duties of a horsehand. Once Strang was left alone with the horses, the level to which he is enthralled with them began to be portrayed; Strang commented on how much he wanted to smell and touch them, and how he particularly favoured ‘Nugget’ as an almost religious symbol.

The play reached a crescendo just before the interval, with creepy monologues from the psychiatrist hinting at the decline of his own mental health thanks to Strang’s case. In a very powerful scene, the audience saw Strang reenact his intimate fornightly ritual of riding a horse without bridle or saddle to pay homage to the slavery that he believes horses suffer. The scene was incredibly intense for the audience and, despite the potential comic relief offered by its sexual elements, there were no titters from the crowd.

Finally, after a short interval, we were thrust back into the thick of it with Strang describing the night he committed the act that lead him to being hospitalised. Jill, ever the temptress, invites Strang on a date to watch a porn movie. At this point the audience was left wondering if the promised ‘naked bit’ would actually be an act of masturbation (this turned out not to be the case). Strang bumps into his sexually understimulated father at the movie, which leaves him confused (whilst his dad clearly dies a little inside). A defining moment of the play was when Strang stands up to his father by refusing to leave with him, insisting that he must make sure Jill gets home safely (we’ve all heard that one before).

Jill of course leads him to the stable, where the horses Nugget and co. are locked away. Jill persuades Strang to get almost naked with her and offers herself to a frankly pretty messed up boy. Finally, Strang painfully describes how he failed to ‘stick it in her’, and ends up blinding six horses instead. This led us to the final scene, which was phenomenal; the movements of the horses combined with their eerily lit-up eyes was something in itself, but the raw pain emanating from Strang made it almost difficult to watch.

Use of space and levels was fantastic throughout the whole production with the psychiatrist constantly looking down upon Strang from above, and characters entering from the front doors. If the Soton Tab had to criticise this play, it would be that the characters did not actually get naked which meant that it lacked the reality of the script. The mother’s character was also at times slightly weak and the horses did not move in time which could have made them most effective. All in all, a haunting play that we and everyone else thoroughly enjoyed. Well done TG!

Did you see Equus? What did you think? Let us know in comments!