Peter Shaffer’s Equus isn’t the obvious choice for a school play. Not only does it demand two ruthlessly committed performances, but the themes and content of the play are far from joyous. Yet Dr Liviero’s school production excelled in unleashing the visceral power of Shaffer’s unflinching exploration into the world of psychology and passion.
The play depicts the symbiotic relationship between psychologist and patient. The frustrated and overworked Dr Dysart (Ivan A) spends the play recounting his discovery of why disturbed teen Alan Strang (William O) blinded six horses and wrestles with the implications on his own life. This play asks more questions than it offers answers, and in such a manner it begins.
The show opens with Alan embracing a horse, while Dysart, in a monologue, struggles to make sense of the case. Then we’re thrown into Dysart’s memory, and it is within this medium the action of the play takes place. Alan’s crimes are introduced by his magistrate friend Hesther (Jamie C), who serves as the voice of traditional reason throughout the play. Yet after unfruitful confrontations with Alan, Dysart looks to the cause in his parents, Dora and Frank, masterfully played by Tom B and Toby T.
Soon begins the puzzle, as we find clues from Alan’s upbringing which lead to his fascination with horses. Through a first encounter with a horse and rider (Nicholas P) followed by a job in the stables and further encounters with the animals, Alan’s relationship with horses is slowly revealed, culminating in an epic Act I finale, with Alan riding Nugget (Chinweike O) through the night. The actors playing horses (Adrian O, Akinfolarin A, Louis K, Hector D, Lucas M) merit special mention, with their subtle and dynamic physicalisation of the horses rendering each moment of their stage presence ever more gripping.
Act II finds Dysart going deeper into Alan’s past and finally, with the use of manipulation and placebo, Alan reveals what happened the night of the blinding. His relationship with Equus – the horse God he worships – and the refreshingly joyful stable help Jill (Alexander L) become ultimately untenable. Dysart’s final monologue questions passion and normality’s place in Alan’s and his own life, and the show ends with a wonderful image of the doctor surrounded by the horses.
The technical elements of the production were brilliant. Sam C-C’s composed soundtracks allied perfectly with the abstract and eerie lighting design and gave the climax of the show a ferocious power. Yet, undeniably, it was the acting that made the show what it was. Ivan A’s characterisation gave Dysart wonderful nuance and life. William O’s totally committed performance was powerful and extremely moving. Toby T and Tom B played the parents in an unobvious but more sympathetic way to great effect. They all deserved every bit of the standing ovation they received on opening night.