Performed in the Unicorn Theatre 6 - 9 March 2013
by Peter Shaffer
Forty years on from the National Theatre’s premiere of Peter’s Shaffer’s Equus, the play retains its place in the repertoire, even though the theories of psychiatrist R.D. Laing on which it is in part based are now largely discredited.
A West End revival six years ago played a significant part in maintaining its high profile. This gave a much publicised role to Daniel (Harry Potter) Radcliffe as Alan Strang, a tortured teenager who shockingly blinds four horses with a metal spike. Richard Griffiths was Martin Dysart, the hospital shrink trying to free Alan from his demons. The play’s hint that, in some ways, he might be better off with them is the Laingian touch that now seems mildly distasteful.
Abingdon Drama Club proved the strength-in-depth of its membership in an exceptionally well-managed production of the play last week, under the direction of Andrea Mardon. Young Lawley Barnett (complete with unscripted nose-bleed on the first night) supplied a convincing, unsettling, portrait of Strang — sullen and uncooperative at the start, then steadily revealing his warped passion for horses as Dysart (Jon Crowley, expert in a long and challenging role) probed deeper.
His trouble appears to result from the religiosity of his hellfire-spouting mother (the excellent Lynne Smith) becoming overlaid in his mind with images of horses and the excitement of his encounters with them.
The result is a new religion all of his own, with ‘equus’ his object of worship. Thus is the ground laid for the climactic scene in the stables — harrowingly presented in this in-the-round production, which hugely benefited from Paul Walton’s atmospheric music.
There were fine performances across the board, and especially from Adam Blake as Strang’s grumpy atheist dad, Lin Crowley as the good-sort JP who puts Dysart on the case, and Rosie Hunt as the stablegirl Jill whose sexual attentions to Alan help precipitate disaster.
Chris Gray - Oxford Times 14/3/13
'Equus was absolutely outstanding and probably the best performance of any play by an amateur group that we have ever seen. The quality of acting by all the cast was exceptional and certainly every bit as good as one would expect from a professional company. It was brave of you to take on such a demanding play and the decision to do so is a credit to your courage and to your wholly justified confidence in the talents of your actors.'
'I just wanted to let you know that all of my students thoroughly enjoyed the performance of Equus that we came to see last night, and they were particularly awed by the young actor playing Alan for his absolute focus and interpretation of the role. They were buzzing about it all the way home, and again in lessons today.
I was also impressed by the high standards of acting, directing and technical support! The horses were beautifully portrayed, both in terms of the construction of the head pieces and the actors' movements. It was a powerful and moving performance by the whole ensemble.'
'May I congratulate your club on a marvellous production last night.
Lawley Barnett is a very professional young man who held the tension of the play so well. For such a young man and his first major role he must be congratulated. I have seen the play professionally and Lawley was nearing their interpretation. Well done.
Also to be especially commended - Jon Crowley who played the part so well, and Lin Crowley, a true professional.
Finally the music - this added an extra dimension to the play along with the lighting and ambiance of the building.
Thank you for a wonderful evening.'
'I thoroughly enjoyed tonight’s performance! A very challenging and thought provoking piece. The cast were excellent.'