I have to admit that I giggled just a little when I realised that Row B – my row – was actually the very front row. And so did every other person that walked past us, saying things like, “Are you kidding me?” and “This is a bit close, innit?” It became very clear, very quickly, from a number of loud, sniggering conversations that a lot of those as close as we were, were that close to – pardon the bluntness – check out Harry Potter’s… wand.
The set is dark and haunting, in a round room, six horse-heads in metal hanging on the walls, boxes scattered around the stage. Smoke entered, and so did Richard Griffiths as psychiatrist Martin Dysart. The moment Richard opened his mouth, he had us all paying close attention to every word he said. There’s something about the way he delivers his lines that just makes you unable to look anywhere else.
I wasn’t sure what to expect when I heard about Daniel Radcliffe making his stage-debut as mentally unstable teenager Alan Strang with an obsession with horses. I’ve heard of juvenile delinquency, but worshipping Equus (latin for horse) and finding him/them sexually arousing isn’t something you read about in the papers every day. There’s also the nudity thing, and taking into consideration the kid is only 17, I had mixed feelings about just that. It’s not that I’m a prude, by all means, but seventeen years old…
However, I needn’t have worried. Not only is it a classy play, the way they’ve dealt with the nudity (that of Daniel Radcliffe and his love-interest Jill played by Joanna Christie) very much becomes a part of the play rather than and oh my God moment. I was sweating a little when he talked about baring everything in the first act, but when they got to the actual scene in part two it wasn’t like the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. Though a couple of girls on the first row held their breaths for longer than is humanly responsible.
Another performance worthy of note in the play is that of Joanna Christie. She puts in a wonderfully engaging and believable performance as the stable girl, Jill. Christie’s scene with Radcliffe near the end of the play is a daunting one; and here she showed an ability to display real emotional range. She looked genuinely delighted with the enthusiastic reaction she received from the audience at her curtain call.
The six horses are played by six very well-built men wearing horse-heads and horse-shoes made out of metal. It looks almost like something out of the cult film “Donnie Darko” (read: Frank the Rabbit) and works remarkably well. How Dr Dysart’s life and fears unravels as he digs into the psyche of Alan is very interesting. He compares his own existence with that of Alan to his colleague Hesther (Jenny Agutter), adding dryly that after going through his own routine every morning – after spending the previous evening with a woman he hasn’t kissed in six years – he comes to the hospital to help Alan with his sanity. That’s what his stare has been saying to me all this time: ‘At least I galloped – when did you?’ Meaning, whatever his mental state is, at least he has passion.
The play itself, I think, ranks up there with “A Moon For The Misbegotten”, a play I’d rank as not far from “Frost/Nixon” and “The Entertainer”. “Equus” is on at the Gielgud Theatre until 9th June 2007.