How many different ways can one play be interpreted? The company of Equus were very keen not to impose their opinions but the audience at last night’s post-show Q&A at Trafalgar Studios had plenty of their own. Which were right? All of them!
And what a knowledgeable audience it was. Many had seen this or other previous productions before – several had even seen the original 1973 National Theatre premiere while a twenty-something man from Uzbekistan had come specially, having fallen in love with the play after multiple viewings care of his local youth theatre. It was an audience primed to appreciate what makes this critically acclaimed “reimagining”, helmed by director Ned Bennett and co-produced by English Touring Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East, so different.
“The extremity is the point”
Inspired by a true story – Peter Shaffer saw the headline in a newspaper and fictionalised the rest – Equus centres on teenager Alan Strang (Ethan Kai), whose pathological equine fascination leads him to blind six horses, and his psychiatrist Dr Martin Dysart (Zubin Varla), who is tasked with uncovering the motive behind the boy’s actions. As Dysart delves into Alan’s world of twisted spirituality, passion, religion and sexuality, he begins to question his own sanity.
While the original playscript specifies costumes for the actors playing the horses, including chestnut-coloured tracksuits and four-inch hooves, such trappings are ditched here. Instead, honed, dance-trained actors Keith Gilmore and Ira Mandela Siobhan are barefoot and stripped down to their underwear in scenes where the beast-gods are evoked through incredibly precise and powerful movements. And all of the ensemble collide as a herd of horses for a thrilling denouement.
We talked lots about movement (care of Shelley Maxwell), motivations, collaboration, the joys of touring and more during the Q&A, at which I was joined by cast members Natalie Radmall-Quirke, Norah Lopez Holden, Ethan Kai, Zubin Varla, Robert Fitch and Doreene Blackstock.
Event photography by Peter Jones.