Review: Equus @ Northern Stage

“Isn’t that the one with Daniel Radcliffe naked on a horse?” - Carys Rose Thomas reviews Pete Shaffer's Equus at Northern Stage

Carys Rose Thomas
3rd May 2019
Equus Production Photos ©The Other Richard

“Isn’t that the one with Daniel Radcliffe naked on a horse?”

Is most people’s responses when you tell them you’re going to see Equus. This 2007 production made a massive name for itself as the Harry Potter star’s theatrical equivalent of Miley Cyrus going from ‘The Best of Both Worlds’ to ‘Wrecking Ball’. But award-winning director Ned Bennett’s most recent touring production, currently at Northern Stage, proves that Equus has more to offer than Harry Potter naked on a horse

The website described the production as a ‘thriller’, which left me somewhat skeptical before the performance. It often feels like theatres aren’t claustrophobic or intimate enough to pull of the title of ‘thriller’, but Equus certainly didn’t disappoint. The story of young Alan Strang’s complex relationship between his sexuality, god and (somewhat strangely) horses had me completely captivated from start to finish.

The production felt carried by its outstanding design and movement

The story itself is an interesting one, with none of the characters being at all particularly likeable, but the overall story still very compelling. The production felt carried by its outstanding sound and set design, and the choreography and movement of the production rather than the story itself. Troubled you man, older man who “sees something of himself” in the boy,  etc. etc. Equus isn’t a bad story, but it isn’t exactly the best. Given that it was written in 1973, one of the outstanding features of the production was that it was, at some points, frustratingly dated.

Equus Production Photos
©The Other Richard

It can be challenging for a touring production to have particularly ambitious stage and tech design, but this productions of Equus deployed an outstanding use of a minimalist design which has maximum effect. The productions definitely erred on the side of quality over quantity - even something as minute as the sandcastles on stage were a perfectly small but fascinating feature (what *were* those castles really made of?!) and this is without even mentioning the movement.

Given its somewhat gory, bleak themes, Equus is also brilliantly funny at points

I was actually in Equus when I was 17. As a part of the rehearsal process, we were forced to spend 5 hours in our school hall pretending to be horses. You can imagine, Im sure, that asking a bunch o 6th form students to pretend to be horses for five whole hours was not met with the best initial response. But by the end of it I found myself fascinated with the way horses move. The way they lead with their head, flex all of their muscles so visibly and bend their calves inwards. All of this was so perfectly embodied by the performers when they played the horses, with an especially outstanding performances from Ira Mandela Siobhan who played the horse Nugget. Watching his stares, the turns of his neck and movement of his jaw was a complete delight.

Equus Production Photos
©The Other Richard

Given its somewhat gory, bleak themes, Equus is also brilliantly funny at points. The cinema scene provides a brilliant 70s comparison to the modern-day ‘parent walks in on their child wanking’, or in this case, vice versa. The production is deeply engaging and dynamic, and a real visual spectacle. As it continues its tour, I urge you to go and see it wherever and whenever you can.

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