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NB: as of 23 September 2008, all new artSMart articles are being published on the site news.artsmart.co.za.

EQUUS (article first published : 2008-07-17)

Equus is the story of a boy, Alan Strang, who is taken to hospital to be treated by a psychologist after he has stabbed out six horses’ eyes. This is a highly intense play about how a psychologist, Dr. Dysart gets Alan to talk about what happened to make him react the way he did, and respond to people the way he does.

Staged at PJ’s on the 2008 National Arts Festival’s Fringe programme, the set was minimal with only a table and chair, and two benches on the main stage. Either side of the performance space, the ‘backstage’ actors were seated in full view of their entrances and exits, hence breaking the fourth wall.

Peter Shaffer’s Equus is marvellously written as a great thriller should be written. Seeing it in performance is even more overwhelming. Dr. Dysart’s journey in getting Alan to open up about what happened the night he blinded those six horses is long and thrilling as we see how patient rubs off on doctor, and Dr. Dysart realizes the lack in his life as he discovers Alan’s joys, weaknesses and sorrows.

Slipping between physical theatre, realism, and using many alienation techniques (such as actors in full view at every moment) to get an audience to analyze as Dr. Dysart does, this production of Equus brings to life with some sterling performances a unique story that tells of human nature, love, obsession and mental illness - i.e. the human condition.

Characters are believable most of the time. However with the second half more pacy that the first, it feels as if energy levels could’ve been raised. Being a ‘talking heads’ written play by Shaffer himself, precise and well-chosen action needs to be undertaken to activate the intensity of the story, and this could have been explored further. Costumes were believable, and the physical theatre aspect of it was impressive from the dancing cast. The use of the stage was interesting and successfully added a filmic quality to a stage piece, allowing the story to be told in a unique fashion. – Shika Budhoo




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