The 1970s and playwright Peter Shaffer gave birth to Equus, a disturbing play that explores the psychological turmoil of disturbed 17-year-old Alan Strang and his fixation on horses that’s fuelled by a violent and sexual indifference to the equines.
Brisbane Arts Theatre, under the direction of Brenda White, has brilliantly revived this intensely confronting play that is set in the 70s but is just as relevant today. Brenda’s excellent direction has revived the controversial play and added a few artistic steroids that confront the audience. The story unfolds as a battle of wits between Alan and his court-appointed psychiatrist Martin Dysart, who’s dealing with his own demons of self doubt and soul-searching.
Alan’s unhealthy fixation on horses allows him to cope with his cold and emotionally distant parents: an extremely religious mother and a father who prefer porn cinemas over his wife. Alan is saved from gaol and assigned the therapist by a sympathetic judge after Alan blinds five horses with a metal poker.
Christopher Batkin plays Alan and the dark role is a turning point in his career. His first dramatic lead role is simply brilliant and takes you on a rollercoaster ride of emotions: pure rage, love, distrust, passion and childlike innocence. Anthony Hopkins and most famously Harry Potter’s Daniel Radcliffe have both played the role, and it was also as pivotal a point in each of their careers. The role involves a nude scene that was controversial in the 70s, but is simply a part of the play’s unfolding complexity.
Dom Tennison plays Alan’s shrink, Martin Dysart, and brings him to life despite a challenging amount of dialogue with his believable confrontations, emotional outbursts and excellent timing. Josephine Dino’s court judge added great dimension to the play as did Claire Argente, who lit up the stage. The play’s horses will capture your imagination with simple yet believable wire frames. The actors controlling them perfectly capture the nature of the animal’s behaviour. The staging is simple but clever with the entire cast onstage for the whole performance.
This must-see play is heavy-going but immensely entertaining, with White’s direction keeping you on the edge of your seat and trying to predict just where the play will take you next.
Equus is playing at the Brisbane Arts Theatre until September 3. For details and tickets, visit their website.