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Equus: First Peview Review

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#81 Guest_gandalf_*

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Posted 23 February 2007 - 06:34 PM

C+ seems a bit harsh! I would like to know of a 17 year old who gets an A on this scale.
It is a cracking production and Daniel Radcliffe is a revelation.

#82 Guest_John_*

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Posted 24 February 2007 - 11:21 PM

For anyone who hasn't read a newspaper, been on the net or generally got out of bed in the last month, Equus is a sort of psychological mystery. Martin Dysart (Richard Griffiths) is a child psychologist reluctantly taking on the case of a violent teenager, Alan Strang (Daniel Radcliffe.) Strang is a stable-boy who one night blinded six horses. As Dysart works on him, he discovers a boy whose mother is ultra-religious, his father rabidly anti-religious, and who has taken these opposing infuences and created his own form of worship based around horses, and the god, Equus, that Alan sees in them. As the story goes on we slowly discover how this worship turned to violence - and Dysart begins to question his own empty life.

Dysart is the central character but this production has been all about Daniel Radcliffe and his stage debut. I won't lie, I was nervous about whether he could pull it off - his film work has been mixed at best and this is one of my all-time favourite plays. Ridiculously cute he may be, but that wouldn't have saved him from my wrath if he'd been shit. Fortunately, he was far from it. Early reviews have praised Radcliffe to the rafters - I don't know that I'd call his performance an unqualified success, but it was bloody good. A sudden, very public leap onto the demanding West End stage could have been downright embarrassing if he wasn't up to it, but not once does he seem out of his depth.

One thing about him is undeniable: We've heard a lot about how he's been having vocal coaching for well over a year, and bloody hell has it paid off. His projection is flawless. Not one word is anything less than crystal clear, it's as if he's sitting next to you. The cast may include veterans with decades of experience behind them, but Radcliffe wipes the floor with them. That's right, as far as sheer voice projection goes, Radcliffe shits all over Richard Griffiths (who, talented though he may be, has always been a bit of a mumbler.) In addition, he's lucky enough to have something no amount of hard work can get you, and that's stage presence. Despite his slight frame he's immensely watchable.

The character of Alan has three major scenes, all of them flashbacks, and while he has his off-moments until then, when those scenes arrive Radcliffe nails them. Another element of his performance that'll stand him in good stead in his stage career is his amazing physicality, and he displays this in the first of these, when he regresses to 8 years old and his first ride on a horse. His sullen expression melts into real childlike glee. The decision to use dancers as the horses was an excellent one, and ballet star Will Kemp is a great choice for Nugget/Young Horseman. Kemp and Radcliffe together have a real visceral connection and my only reservation with this scene is Alan falling off the horse - he is gently supported by his father (Jonathan Cullen) instead of crashing to the ground. I can understand the need to protect their valuable young star from injury, but being such a physical performer a couple of fight workshops would have been enough for Radcliffe to master falling without hurting himself, and the scene would have had the sense of trauma it deserves.

The other two major scenes for Alan are of course the most controversial ones, firstly where he has an orgasm on horseback, and finally the infamous nude scene. Again, Radcliffe is spot-on and I'll mention these scenes again later (yes, I'm going to blab on even more, sorry.) In the one lighter scene he does get, where he goes to a porno cinema only to find his dad there, he also displays a good comic touch. The good news is, Radcliffe's worked hard for this part and it's paid off in spades. The bad news is I think he's always going to need to put this much effort in. But if he can get comfortable enough with the phenomenal pair of lungs he's got to not worry about projecting his voice, and focus on bringing more life into the quieter moments, we could be looking at a pretty impressive theatrical career. As for my question of "will he play Hamlet by the time he's 30" the jury's still out; but I'd give pretty good odds on him doing it by 35.

Now, I'm going to be massively controversial so please, no lynchings. I was a little bit disappointed with Richard Griffiths. Maybe it's the fact that, unlike Radcliffe, I expected him to be excellent, so he had more to live up to. Here's the thing though: When I heard about the casting, I re-read the play, "hearing" Griffiths' voice for Dysart. It immediately made the lines better, and I even laughed at lines that I hadn't found funny before. And yes, his dry delivery does get some great laughs and he gets the character's pathos down to a tee. But the performance I saw onstage wasn't that different from the one in my head, and I guess when you're talking about an actor of that calibre I want to see something unexpected. He does have some standout moments though, notably a gruesome dream in the first act.

Some more reservations before I get back to the good stuff: The production is still a bit flabby in places, notably in the scenes where Dysart deals with Alan's parents. Overall the younger cast members come out of this better than the older ones, and I suspect this is because director Thea Sharrock spent more time on Radcliffe's scenes than the rest. The rehearsal period is never long enough, his scenes are pivotal, and I can't say in her shoes that my priorities would have been any different but even so, the older cast members seem to have been left to find their own way more than I would have liked. I hope Sharrock uses the remaining preview period to tighten up the smaller, more domestic scenes because at the moment this is where the production flags. And while I'm on a downer, Jenny Agutter doesn't have a very meaty part as Hesther, but she still could have done more with it; and while I did think that having an Irish actress as Alan's religion-mad mother was a bit of lazy shorthand, Gabrielle Reidy grows into the part and is believable.

Now back to the positive stuff: I've already mentioned Will Kemp. He and the other dancers playing horses do a sterling job, bringing the energy, grace or menace of the animals as the scene requires. The metal hooves on their feet look dangerously precarious but the performers are never anything less than energetic and poweful. Joanna Christie as Jill is also excellent - despite being several years older than Radcliffe she comes across as more youthful, with her sparkly, slightly dizzy performance never patronising her character. She's also genuinely beautiful - although slightly less glam when I spotted her while I was walking around to pass the time before going into the theatre (she was standing outside the stage door smoking a fag.)

Back to Thea Sharrock and John Napier, the original designer from 1973 returning for this production. Between them they get the tone of the big, creepy scenes just right. The simple set, once again featuring audience members onstage, is brilliant. Napier's inspiration was those Victorian operating theatres, where members of the public could look down from high above and watch dissections. And yes, it does have this feel, but even more so for me it reminded me of a gladiatorial arena, with a number of passages surrounding the central circle from which instead of lions horses could emerge at any moment, beautiful or terrifying. The designs collide with the performances in the climactic scene of each act, that have a suitably nightmarish, hypnotic quality. In his final naked frenzy, Sharrock has coaxed real passion out of Radcliffe and as the ending makes clear, if there's one thing the actor playing Alan Strang needs to convey, it's passion.

#83 achilles


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Posted 24 February 2007 - 11:52 PM

thanks for that great unsensational well considered review. I'm up in Manchester but would so love to see this production....actually mainly for Will Kemp and the other horses. I'm so glad Radcliffe has pulled it off. Well done.

#84 Guest_Skylight_*

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Posted 24 February 2007 - 11:54 PM

Radcliffe has what???  tongue.gif

#85 Theatresquirrel


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Posted 25 February 2007 - 01:13 AM

OKAY we're five pages into discussion about Equus and no one's yet really mentioned the writing. Maybe it's not relevant, maybe the actual written part of a play doesn't actually matter in this day and age, but it's worth saying - really worth saying - to anyone who's not seen it yet that for no other reason you should see Equus just to see Equus. I saw it today and everything about this hugely measured, hugely resonant production serves the play which to my mind seems to have been written in a pique of inspiration, the place that all writers must long for, where total human emotional acuity comes out in pure concise form. In many of its speeches, soliloquys, monologues, call them what you will, this play reaches so far and deep into what we are about, and comes up with pure gold. So many times I found it to contain language and truth as beautiful and revealing as Shakespeare. That same feeling you get (if you get it) from the long rhapsodic surveys of Shakespeare's characters is somehow caught by Shaffer here in abundance. Martin Dysart's speech about normalcy in Act One is a case in point; rarely do plays have such wonderful ideas conveyed so exactly and keenly. And what Alan Strang says about horses and their omniscience over us is also dazzling. But the second half gives way to so many compelling and eloquent ideas, none more so than in the final scene. I'll say and spoil nothing about it but I think the final lines of this play, and there are quite a few of them, are devastatingly important. Go for them alone (although yes, despite what some snipes say above, we should be grateful to have them delivered here but such a reflective and convincing orator; he's just humbling and wonderful). I think the production does a fantastic job of conveying this amazing text like an exocet missile right at us, and it's that - above anything else - that makes it unmissable.

#86 Blue


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Posted 25 February 2007 - 08:23 AM

I am really looking forward to going to see this play. I've only ever seen the film version and I wasn't impressed. But I have read the playscript and it contains powerful themes and emotions that had me gobsmacked when reading.

I'm just looking forward to seeing the staging of it. I'm not really a plays fan (more musicals for me) but I do try and go and catch plays that intrigue me. Plus the bonus is seeing Richard Griffiths perform and a chance to see Dan Radcliffe (and possibly meet him at the stage door).

So I'm going for the play but I'm also going for the performers as well.

#87 Guest_Guest_*

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Posted 25 February 2007 - 10:13 AM

That was a great review John - guest - thanks. The only thing I would say was that Dysart's life wasn't so much questioning his 'empty' life but why it lacked the same raw passion that Strang had. As a psychologist I would expect Dysart to realise that Strang's passion led to some disastrous consequence therefore is not something to be envy. If anything his life is better (Dysart) just needs to invigorate his marriage more or leave it and find someone who inspires him more and vice versa...

#88 Guest_Guest_*

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Posted 26 February 2007 - 05:42 PM

have no time to go into detail but i saw on sat avo and loved it. truly a theatrical tour de force x

#89 Guest_Guest_*

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Posted 27 February 2007 - 01:58 PM

I am surprised at the amount of work Thea Sharrock gets.

She should certainly never have been let loose on Heroes.

Hope this is better but I'll wait for the reviews.

#90 Guest_Guest_*

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Posted 27 February 2007 - 02:13 PM

Does she have 'connections'?

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