Equus: First Peview Review
Posted 23 February 2007 - 06:34 PM
It is a cracking production and Daniel Radcliffe is a revelation.
Posted 24 February 2007 - 11:21 PM
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.
Posted 24 February 2007 - 11:52 PM
Posted 24 February 2007 - 11:54 PM
Posted 25 February 2007 - 01:13 AM
Posted 25 February 2007 - 08:23 AM
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.
Posted 25 February 2007 - 10:13 AM
Posted 26 February 2007 - 05:42 PM
Posted 27 February 2007 - 01:58 PM
She should certainly never have been let loose on Heroes.
Hope this is better but I'll wait for the reviews.
Posted 27 February 2007 - 02:13 PM
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