Peter Schaffer’s play Equus is currently being performed by Teddington Theatre Club at the Hampton Hill Playhouse in south-west London. I first heard of the play when Daniel Radcliffe took on the principal role a few years ago, and have been keen to see it since. The play is about a seventeen-year-old stable hand who blinds six horses in an unprecedented act of violence, and is sent to a psychiatric hospital under the care of a psychiatrist, who tries to get to the bottom of what makes his young patient tick.
Though this was an amateur production, the staging was strong and the performances excellent. I was particularly impressed with the actors playing the two lead roles of the psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, and his patient, Alan Strang. This is a difficult play but both leads conveyed the complexity of their characters and kept the audience absorption throughout. Actors portraying the hospital nurse, Alan’s parents, and his colleagues at the stable provided strong support, as did the young actors who had the responsibility of playing the horses – with War Horse-style horse heads and very realistic noise and movement.
I’m not sure what I expected from the play, but I found it to be more than just an exploration of why Alan committed this violent act. It was a meditation on worship, religion and gods, as Martin envies Alan his feelings towards the horses he loves, comparing them to his own interest in Ancient Greece, and questioning whether deep passion and worship is incompatible with modern life. I found plenty to think about in this fine production of an excellent play.