Equus ****

Equus asks a lot of its audience.  Not only must they accept a complicated plot with a fragmented timeline and some dubious characters, they must also be able to embrace moments that require some major leaps of faith.

Alan Strang has blinded a group of horses at the stables he works at.  Instead of being shipped off to prison, he is entrusted into the care of Dr. Martin Dysart, a well-regarded children’s psychiatrist in the midst of a professional crisis.  The more Strang is treated, the more Dysart comes to doubt the good he can do for his patient, especially as the true nature of Strang’s beliefs become unearthed.  As the programme correctly notes, Equus is more of a ‘whydunnit’ instead of a ‘whodunnit’.

Director Jemina Levick has made many interesting choices, most of which work remarkably well.  The production is staged in the round and is mostly lit in fluorescent lights, with actors dotted throughout the audience whenever they are not onstage.  This not only makes everything feel more naturalistic but makes the production’s more theatrical moments feel richer, including the key moments when actors become horses.  Levick has also opted to limit the scripted nudity, which actually succeeds in making the play’s final moment feel more vulnerable.

In the hands of Dundee’s great ensemble, the play feels almost effortless.  It is filled with excellent performances, each shining brightly without eclipsing anyone else.  There isn’t a dominating performance because every actor stands out whenever they are onstage.  It is testament to the work that Dundee has done in creating such a solid ensemble spirit that such rich performances can take place, even with the supporting roles, and the production is all the better for it.

It should also be noted that during some performances, actor Robert Paterson bowed out due to illness.  Actor John Buick stood in for the role of Dysart while actor Crawford Logan took over Buick’s key role of Strang’s father, with both actors reading from their scripts.  That the action did not falter because of this, and that the rest of the cast were able to turn in powerful performances while performing with actors on script, is further evidence to the fantastic spirit that has emerged from Dundee’s remarkable ensemble.

Originally written for Onstage Scotland.

Performing at Dundee Rep until March 20.


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