Director Anna Hextall has put together an ambitious, effective and imaginative production of Peter Shaffer’s Equus, which will open at the OFS studio next week. Joe Murphy deals well with the complexities of playing the horse-blinding Alan Strang and Edward Fortes (as child psychiatrist Martin Dysart) is more than enough to match him, even if one or two of his mannerisms (such as running his hands through his hair at every stressful moment or keeping his hands on his hips when addressing the audience) could be toned down without losing any of the drama.
Helen Slaney and Tim Kiely worked well together as Alan’s parents – especially in the flashback ‘television’ scene. Slaney’s vocal range was particularly impressive, as she made a sudden yet believable transformation from mousy housewife to religious zealot.
Kiely’s performance was also strong but a habit of closing his eyes on certain words while speaking was a little distracting. Elizabeth Bichard (as magistrate Hester Saloman) gave a very strong facial and vocal performance, but at times the very stationary staging of her scenes with Dysart was a little restrictive.
Cuppers Best Actress Ruby Thomas plays stable girl Jill Mason and was strong in her opening scene (although, due to the shortened length of the press preview, we were given little clue as to how her character would develop). The scene involving the ‘horse’ chorus was atmospheric, even without the lighting which should add a lot to the whole performance.
Rachel Beaconsfield Press’s ‘horse head’ constructions gave the play a much-needed visual interest. Combined with the eerie humming of the ‘horse’ chorus they looked quite otherworldly and added a lot to the sinister atmosphere.
But what stood out most about the preview was the success of the piece’s direction – scene changes were fluid, staging was well thought-out. A challenging play was well executed. From the acting to the marketing this is a student play with the attributes of a professional endeavour and I am looking forward to seeing it in full next week in a setting that will do the production justice.
Equus is at the OFS studion, 2-6 February, 19.30
CORRECTION: In today’s newspaper, an additional paragraph was included in this article suggesting that Anna Hextall’s production would feature no nudity. This was factually incorrect, and we can assure you that there will indeed be nudity in the play. Cherwell apologises to its readers and to those involved in the play for the confusion.