Review: Equus by Theatre Group ★★★★★

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Peter Shaffer’s Equus is a fundamentally dark, disturbing and subversive play. It debates and comments on idea of religion, sexuality, parental control and existentialism through the relationship of Dr. Martin Dysart (played by Joel Jackson) and Alan Strang (Sam Dobson). This has made Equus an incredibly popular yet challenging piece to perform, and Theatre Group’s decision to tackle this piece is an ambitious move. To be done properly it requires a very clear and thought out direction, along with a cast who are not only capable, but who will push themselves. A week ago The Edge went along to a preview to see how TG’s rehearsal’s were going and it looked promising, if not quite a finished article..

The atmosphere and mood of Equus is, due to its nature, a dark and unsettling but directors Robin Johnson and Mike Cottrell really pushed this creepy feeling throughout the play. The lighting, music and even the set contributed to an unnerving atmosphere, which was further enhanced by the smoke machines, which weren’t overly used – as is often the case.

Another truly impressive piece of this Equus performance was the portrayal of the horses, and title character Equus. The horse masks were truly unsettling – the actor’s faces are slightly concealed but during the play their expressions add another layer to the uncomfortable environment that is built up.

On which note, much credit has to be given to Jeremy McCabe who delivers a stunning performance as Nugget and eponymous character Equus. Without saying a word he brings life to the roles, a feat itself, but the level to which he achieves this is truly remarkable. Similarly, other members of the supporting cast, though they may not have had long monologues, all brought their talent to the fore. This is particularly enhanced thanks to the dynamic between Strang and Dysart, whose characters were well defined before Strang’s parents or Dysart’s confidant Hester Saloman are brought in as characters who further develop the themes going on in the play.

The crux of Equus is the relationship between troubled teen Alan Strang and psychiatrist Dr. Martin Dysart. These roles were superbly executed by Sam Dobson and Joel Jackson respectively. Dysart’s opening monologue was nothing short of exquisite, and Jackson really took note of the self-doubt and existential crisis Dysart is experiencing. Talking to Jackson after the performance he commented on really investigating Dysart’s feeling of robbing his patients, like Strang, of their individuality which really drives Dysart’s personal dilemma throughout the play.

Dobson plays Strang impeccably. He captures the confusion and twisted nature of Strang’s mind (and the play itself) and makes the whole experience incredibly real. By throwing himself into the role so totally, all of Strang’s issues from parental control and his devotion to Equus are plain to see for the audience – which adds to their unsettling nature.

Ultimately, the scenes where both Jackson and Dobson were the centrepiece were utterly stunning. From an intimate trust and verbal sparring to scenes of unrelenting anger, I was totally immersed with their dynamic and would recommend you see the show just to see that if nothing else.

What TG set out to do with Equus was commendable, a fundamentally uncomfortable, shocking and disturbing piece performed by students. It is not a piece which, because of this, you’re likely to leave with an upbeat or jolly mood. That said, if you don’t go and see this performance of Equus, I think you will have fundamentally missed out on, in my opinion, the strongest piece of theatre work performed by Theatre Group in recent memory. Without a doubt, TG’s Equus is the finished article.

Equus will be performed by Theatre Group from 30th October to 2nd November, and tickets can be bought here.

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