Equus by X Collective

Equus Rating

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Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play ‘Equus’ has been described in various ways over the decades. One reviewer said the play was a deep dive into psychiatry, religion, and sexuality. The horses serve as both paraphilic loci and objects of ecstatic worship while an emotionally desiccated doctor struggles to find purpose in his practice.

Another said the play confabulates a complex Romantic, Jungian, and Freudian mythos around the depraved acts of this desperately mentally ill individual, positing that (at least in the view of the self-abnegating child psychiatrist who interrogates him) his act was a kind of Dionysian acting out, or a sort of religious ecstasy, motivated by a sublimated homoeroticism that is displaced onto horses rather than men.

If you’re still with me, which I truly hope you are, the deep dive into the psyche of each of the protagonists in the production I watched last night put on by the X Collective at The Holy Trinity Hall on Ann Street in Fortitude Valley was done well.

The play is based on meetings between psychiatrist Martin Dysart, played by Greg Scurr, and his young patient Alan Strang, played by Adam Dobson, with flashbacks and interactions with other characters. It follows the psychiatrist trying to understand why the boy stabbed the horses he was caring for in the eyes while wrestling with his own sense of purpose and the nature of his work.

It’s a richly layered play that draws us into the disturbed psyche of the boy, drilling down into his madness. It’s not so much a whodunnit as a why-did-he-do-it? A puritanical father, an obsessively religious mother, and the boy’s preoccupation with horses. Dysart gets to the truth when he tricks Alan into reliving the events of the night of the blinding. In the process, Dr Dysart is seen to be just as disturbed as his patient.

This is a play for two main actors, depicting a battle between reason and instinct, and an ensemble piece for others who double as people and horses. There is good work from Jules Berry as a magistrate seeking to save the boy as well as stave off Dysart’s breakdown, Stephen Jubber as Alan’s oppressive father, Julia Johnson as his Bible-quoting mother, Roxanne Gardner as the boy’s would-be lover, Caroline Sparrow as the Nurse, and Henry Solomon who plays the roles of The Horseman and Harry Dalton the stable owner.

Performed in a church, the audience sits in the nave, the stage area is in front of the main altar, and the players not on stage sit behind in the apse. The acoustics are suited for facing the pews, and thus, sometimes, during crosstalk, even excellent voices can become slightly lost in the transepts, which, ironically, makes the audience lean in to hear better.

The space is effectively a stable strewn with straw and drawn together with the asylum. The ensemble portraying the horses provides an animalistic physicality that, combined with dialogue, reaches its fingers into the audience’s psyche. The X Collective have done a fine job of harnessing this unruly beast of a play.

It’s a demanding text for the actors playing the tortured adolescent patient and the troubled and complex psychiatrist treating him as they launch into a murky exploration of patient and physician. Dysart’s relaxed façade initially crumbles as he becomes increasingly fixated on the unanswerable questions of his work and more entangled with Alan’s volatile psyche.

Equus is definitely well worth a watch, but don’t waste time, as this unique play only runs for two weekends with sessions as follows:-

  • Fri 7th June, 7:30pm
  • Sat 8th June, 7:30pm
  • Fri 14th June, 7:30pm
  • Sat 15th June, 7:30pm

This review also appears on It’s On The House. Check out more reviews at Whats The Show to see what else is on in your town.

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