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Equus

Martin Dysart – Steve Williams
Alan Strang – Richard Stewart
Frank Strang – Paul Campion
Dora Strang – Jan Greenhough
Hesther Salomon – Row Mafham
Jill Mason – Jessica Webb
Harry Dalton – Richard Trantom
Young Horseman – Phil Cairns
Nugget – Peter Yolland
Nurse – Adele Deakins
Six Actors/Chorus – Patrick Brown, Phil Cairns, Frank Goodman, Richard Trantom, Nigel Walker, Peter Yolland

BLT’s production of Equus won this year’s Bromley Theatre Guild’s Full Length Play Festival ‘Best Production’
and garnered awards for Tony Jenner for ‘Best Director’ and ‘Best Set’, ‘Best Supporting Actress’ for Jessica Webb in her role as jill Mason and the ‘Adjudicator’s Award For Special Merit’ for Steve Williams’ lynchpin role as Martin Dysart. Richard Stewart was also nominated for ‘Best Actor’ for his tour de force as the disturbed Alan Strang. I can only goggle at the prospect of another actor in the Bromley area winning this award but then I do not know who it was and can only wish that I had seen his performance. It must have been a barnstormer.

The above, coupled with the almost unanimous awe with which this production was greeted by audiences, means that I have struggled for weeks to set about this review as I must be in an absolute minority (maybe even of one) of not really enjoying my evening and finding myself nodding off at points and checking my watch on a regular basis. That is not to say I did not admire a lot of what I saw and, as my comment above implies, I was deeply impressed with Richard’s complex and emotional portrayal of Strang. It was just as a cohesive piece of drama that it did not quite work for me.
I suspect much can be laid at the door of the playwright and the passage of time. I found the structure irritating: too much telling and not enough showing. This put an enormous burden on Steve Williams and whilst tackling such a gigantic role is of itself impressive, I felt there was too little variety in tone to make it sufficiently dramatic. And although sexual psychosis might have been groundbreaking stuff in the 1970s, I have seen too many alternative treatments of the subject that do not veer towards the pretentious or portentous, as was the case in this play. I also felt that five minutes short of three hours including interval was just too long and some judicious cutting, coupled with a stronger pace, would have helped me enjoy the evening more.

I’ll just get my other problems with the production off my chest so I can focus on what many of  this production admired and what clearly impressed the Bromley festival judges.
I have had the pleasure of working with both Paul Campion and Jan Greenhough on a number of occasions and know them both to be fine actors: I felt they were cruelly served by the caricatures Shaffer made them portray as Alan’s parents, unfortunately not helped by odd facial hair and a bizarre wig respectively that heightened rather than played down the sense that these were mere ciphers for the plotline. Final grump: the horses’ costumes. When so much effort had gone into making the magnificent heads and so much skill had been expended on the direction and execution of the movement of those heads and hooves (particularly well captured I thought by Peter Yolland), why put them in tight-fitting, beige suits which, sorry to say (now I’m really veering into dangerous waters), emphasised the all too human curvature of the actors which I, for one, found distinctly distracting? Loose fitting black robes would have been more symbolic and menacing.

At last I’ve reached paragraph two and can let rip with some deserved praise. The set was indeed impressive: simple, stylish, effective and beautifully crafted. The lighting and sound design by Simon Shaw and Tony jenner respectively complemented the set and created an appropriately off-kilter, eerie atmosphere suited to the theme of the play.
The horses, despite the beige suits, were well drilled and carefully choreographed.
Row Mafham, as judge Hester Salomon, exuded a steely authority whilst retaining a deep sense of compassion; she was the consummate caring professional. Adele Deakins gave a nicely judged performance as the nurse, again like Row, getting the mixture ofthe professional and personal response to her troubled charge just right. Steve Williams is a confident performer who naturally inspires confidence in fellow actors and his audience; no mean feat in a role as big as this, although as stated above, I would have liked more variety in his delivery.
Jessica Webb, a newcomer to BLT, was excellent as the girl and I hope to see her in many more productions here as she has a very strong stage presence.
Richard Stewart as Alan Strang provided the dramatic emotional punch that for me rescued the play from its slightly fey intellectualism.
The famous nude scene which could so easily prompt prurient excitement of the wrong variety was beautifully conceived, directed and executed. For me, it was the highlight of the evening as it was naturally played and delivered in such a way that the empathy for the characters far outweighed any coy embarrassment about their nudity:indeed it is testament to the quality of Richard and jessica’s acting that one simply didn’t even notice they were naked.

I have many friends among the cast and crew of this production and I heartily congratulate them on their success at the festival
and for provoking BLT audiences into serious discussion of difficult subjects. It is not often that a serious drama attracts
such full houses and such praise from audiences who traditionally prefer their entertainment on the light side. There was,
as I said, a great deal to admire; I just wish it had entertained me more.

-Abi Topley

 

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