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The Theatreguide.London Review

Equus
Theatre Royal Stratford East and touring   Spring 2019

Director Ned Bennett has deliberately kept things simple in his powerful vision for Peter Shaffer's classic play about teen angst and psychiatry, which is appropriate for a production by English Touring Theatre that needs to pack up and travel on a regular basis.

Designer Georgia Lowe leaves the stage almost bare, backed by white curtains on three sides. Occasional props make important statements and are complemented by vivid lighting from Jessica Hung Han Yun and Giles Thomas's complementary musical compositions, built around chamber strings.

The visual effects are completed by the presence of a number of human horses, led by Ira Mandela Siobhan portraying Nugget in a uniquely muscular manner, fashioned by movement director Shelley Maxwell.

Zubin Varla plays Martin Dysart, the kind of offbeat head doctor who wears mismatched corduroys, brown shoes and a bemused expression. His specialisation is troubled teens, and despite an excessive workload, he is pressured by Ruth Lass's magistrate Hester to take on a 17-year-old named Alan Strang.

The boy depicted with exhausting realism by Ethan Kai has blinded six horses without reason and, but for Hester's intervention, would be spending time behind bars.

Utilising many of the skills that Conan Doyle gave to Sherlock Holmes and quite a few introduced by Sigmund Freud, Dysart slowly finds his way into the psyche of the young man. In doing so, he also analyses Alan's parents and, in passing, a series of his own problems including a loveless, childless marriage with a dentist wife who remains in the background.

Predictably, in the early stages of investigation and treatment the boy is obstructive but tellingly not violent. Gradually, his story unfolds as the doctor uses a variety of strategies to soothe and release information.

At the same time, he also interrogates the parents whose own issues provide a rich source of potential underlying cause for the youngster's behaviour. The combination of a strict but caring Christian and an un-bowing atheist, respectively Syreeta Kumar and Robert Fitch, proves explosive when brought together in the developing mind of a bright child.

The fuse that sets off the explosion is a pretty, worldly young woman named Jill Mason, played by Nora Lopez Holden. While innocently taking the young man under her wing at the local riding stables, she unwittingly taps into a mind riddled by insecurity, proving the catalyst for a devastating night of carnage but also a finely wrought, superbly acted play that richly benefits from this gripping revival.

Philip Fisher

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Review -  Equus - Theatre Royal Stratford East  2019


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