Review: Equus

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Before entering Alington House, all I knew about Equus was that it’s the one where Daniel Radcliffe got naked. I was delighted to find in Pitch Production’s staging of Peter Shaffer’s play much more emotional depth and more powerful performances than I had anticipated. What was clearly a deep passion project for director has come artfully to fruition, and her skilled direction has led to a production that all involved can be proud of.

The play follows psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Ben Lewis) who acts as something of a narrator for the audience, taking us through his analysis of Alan Strang (Horatio Holloway) a 17-year-old who has been admitted to Dysart’s care after violently attacking six horses. Dysart slowly unpicks Strang’s traumatic past and obsession – which toes the line between religious and sexual – with horses.

Holloway’s depiction of Strang’s inner turmoil is completely believable, neither his quiet introspection nor loud bouts of volatility ever seeming over the top

There is no doubt that Alington House is a challenging venue. In order to have enough chairs to give the play the audience it deserves, the aisles between banks of seats were very thin, resulting in actors having to squeeze through from behind the audience onto the stage. The small space, however, did nothing but add to the intensity of the piece. Sitting in the front row, especially, feels simultaneously claustrophobic, immersive, and voyeuristic, as performers brushed past as they enter or knock into legs during high-energy scenes.

Ben Lewis, as both narrator and a key player in the story, is saddled with enormous responsibility, never once leaving the stage as scenes unfold. He expertly portrays Dysart’s sense of disillusionment and dissatisfaction, while never losing the intensity of character. His scenes with Holloway are a particular highlight, as dialogue whips back and forth between the two actors, each champing at the bit to tease information out of the other. Holloway himself is transfixing in his own right. He, too, is onstage for almost the whole play, and always extremely attentive – I frequently found my eyes drawn to him, as he reacted subtly but forcefully to the dialogue occurring behind him. Holloway’s depiction of Strang’s inner turmoil is completely believable, neither his quiet introspection nor loud bouts of volatility ever seeming over the top.

The rest of the cast must also be applauded for their achievements. and both shine as Alan’s domineering parents, repressed and repressive in equal measure. Lucy O’Callaghan, credited as the understudy for Hesther, stepped up impressively well, playing Dysart’s concerned colleague with an excellent level of sympathy both for him and his patient. As the concerned stable owner Harry Dalton, brings impressive depth and is refreshingly different from his anonymous Horserider. is entrancing as the upbeat stablehand Jill Mason, never losing her energy in what I can only imagine is a very challenging role both mentally and physically. Shaffer’s script is undoubtedly a challenging one, and the briefest slip here and there did very little to detract from the overall performance.

Lipscombe’s direction feels extremely naturalistic; the audience is very willingly drawn into whatever we are told the current scene is, whether beach, adult cinema, or hospital room

The cast is rounded off by Felicity Rickard, playing the titular Equus, and the third member of the cast permanently onstage. Though she has no lines, she is an ever-felt presence, representing every horse that Strang encounters. Wearing a wire frame horse’s head expertly constructed by the inimitable Carrie Cheung, Rickard’s physicality is entrancingly equine – a tilt of the head, a flick of the foot – and she remains in the audience’s minds as much as Equus does in Strang’s. 

Equus’ staging is simplistic, but utilised to great effect. Dysart’s office ensemble of a desk and several chairs remains permanently upstage, and the actors traverse this setting and the downstage area adeptly. Lipscombe’s direction feels extremely naturalistic; the audience is very willingly drawn into whatever we are told the current scene is, whether beach, adult cinema, or hospital room. These are at times of particular emotion accentuated with a red wash from production manager Aaron Lo, assisted by India Flavell, which drives home the intensity of the scene. This direction allows the talent of the actors to really shine and the narrative to whip forward without difficult scene transitions or too many technical effects. Many scenes also feature percussion performed at the back of the room by cast members not currently onstage, most commonly in the form of a steady yet unsettling drum beat of hooves, which I thought was an excellent touch. 

Joyanne Chan, with assistant producer June Yang, has produced a fabulous piece such that it is hard for me to rein in my enthusiasm about everyone involved. Suffice it to say, it behooves everyone to see it while they can.

Image credit: Pitch Productions

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