Now finished its Edinburgh run, Mhairi MacLeod gives her thoughts on this recent production at the King’s Theatre.
With just six percent of the British public heading off to church on a Sunday, you’d be forgiven for thinking that our objects of adulation must be transcending the spires and pulpit and onto our television screens, sports grounds and gossip magazines.
So, with the majority choosing to unsubscribe from religion, must we now reformulate our need to worship onto celebrities and football teams or in the case of Alan Strang (Alfie Allen), horses, to truly understand the feeling of passion?
Equus follows the story of child psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Simon Callow) and his attempts to treat seventeen year old Alan Strang (Alfie Allen) at the request of magistrate friend Hester Saloman (Linda Thorson).
While he may appear like any other teenage boy at a glance, Alan’s unusual religious and sexual fascination with horses eventually comes to light when it culminates in the vicious blinding of six of the animals with a metal spike.
Delving into Alan’s troubled psyche issues of religion, sexual repression and passion stir feelings of envy as Dysart analyses his own purpose and being during Alan’s treatment.
Taking place amongst great swirling clouds of grey mist, director Thea Sharrock’s production glides from scene to scene while David Hersey’s mesmerising kaleidoscopic lighting designs are the finishing touch to John Napier’s simplistic yet versatile set. Simon Callow is a consistently nourishing watch, seemingly relishing in the role of the disintegrating Dysart.
Regardless of a somewhat shaky start, perhaps down to some repetitive scripting from Shaffer’s half, Alfie Allen meets the standard set by predecessor Daniel Radcliffe with a second act that sees him successfully fleshing out the character in more ways than one.
The most disappointing showing however is from stablehand Jill (Laura O’Toole) whose staid flirtations lacked any of the burgeoning sexuality that helped bring the piece to its twisted climax.
In a day and age where the media’s obsession with terms like ‘extremist’ or ‘cult’ could have given rise to the number of people shying away from religion and choosing atheism, it would seem our need for worship and passion can still easily be re-channelled into other areas of our lives.
Although Shaffer chooses not to shy away from demonstrating the danger inherent to extreme idolisations, he in turn paints a bleak picture of society in the wake of an exorcism of true, heartfelt passion; a state not too far detached from reality with our current adulations shedding their sacristy with the regularity of changing fashion trends.
Review by Mhairi MacLeod