First Night Review: Equus

They fuck you up, your mum and dad. You might say that, but did they make you go and stab a load of horses in the eye?

I know what you’re thinking, great premise for a play. Been done I’m afraid. And bloody brilliantly. There’s always a great risk when students take on a play as well-known as Equus, let alone one so challenging both technically and emotionally. But there’s little if no disappointment at the OFS this week, for this production revels in the opportunity for experiment in the script and pulls it off with great maturity.

As always, we’ve got to allow for certain restrictions in student theatre, and the set and props are basic. But this doesn’t really hold them back, and in some ways what it asks you to imagine can be much more effective than what it might have explicitly shown you. And in the end those horses heads are freaking disturbing.

Director Anna Hextall uses the space well, moving between scenes seamlessly by making simple but clever use of just a few chairs, and some tactical movement; in seconds a psychiatrist’s office becomes a beach, a stable or a cinema of disrepute. The horses in particular were very unsettling, whose actions had clearly been given a lot of thought. The discordant humming noise they emmitted and the ritual ‘placing on of heads’ each time they appeared became a little farcical towards the end, but on the whole it was fantastically creepy.

The acting was generally excellent. Edward Fortes and Joe Murphy, as child psyhiatrist Dysart and eye-stabber Alan respectively, were outstanding. It’s rare that you see performances which go so far beyond your expectations, and these two stood out as being near-professional on the night. Fortes was perfectly charming and engaged well with

the audience – his various monologues were particular highlights, coming across as both natural and genuinely heartfelt. Murphy was equally enjoyable in a role which demanded serious commitment. He moved well from agression to vulnerability, and his expressive face and voice were so watchable I only once asked myself how Harry Potter might have done it. All the other performances were also very commendable, but I couldn’t help but praise these two extensively.

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After such a protruding eulogy, I feel duty-bound to add that this wasn’t a perfect production. Of course not. But to pick apart any possible faults would be to contaminate the immediate impact this play can have on its audience. It’s not all serious, mind, and is also importantly very entertaining; full of witty dialogue, black humour and diverse characters. But there’s certainly a lot more to it than that. Words like ‘powerful’ and ‘profound’ are all too easily bandied around with theatre like this, but what else can you say? It’s really…good.

And I haven’t even mentioned the nudity yet. How mature of me. Really, I don’t see what the fuss is about… It’s no skin off my penis.

But how did the audience cope? Aside from a smattering of stifled giggles, they remained surprisingly calm, even if a notable stillness took over the room. Then there was the obligatory scandalous texting and exclamations of surprise in the interval, but it ran far short of hysteria. And I heard the words ‘Daniel Radcliffe’ mentioned only three times. So all in all a good performance. Well done audience!

‘Equus ice cream’, on the other hand: horse shit.

Play: 5 Stars
Audience: 3 Stars

Equus is on at the OFS, 2-6 February