Review - Equus: One that deserves full houses
Above: Christopher Batkin rides into purgatpry. Right: Christopher Batkin and Dom Tennison. Below right: Christopher Batkin and Claire Agente.
By Peter Shaffer
Directed by Brenda White
Brisbane Arts Theatre
210 Petrie Terrace
Season: July 30-September 3: Running time two hours 20 minutes plus interval. Bookings: www.artstheatre.com.au or 07 3369 2344
The Arts Theatre is planning to go semi-professional next year and if this show is anything to go by the company has already hit the target. This production is practically faultless and has a lot of original concepts. The play is powerful and beautifully written with strong characters, but is huge challenge for an amateur
company, especially when it contains male
and female full frontal nudity.
But this was perfectly cast and excellently directed; the set and lighting were ingenious and the story was played out by several characters that move in and out of the action very quickly. This could have slowed the action but Brenda White solved that problem cleverly by having the cast sitting silently on stage throughout the action.
They never once were an irritant, in fact hardly noticed until they walked into Chris Kelly’s cleverly lit centre stage lighting.
I have watched Brenda White’s productions over 20 years, even acted in some, but I feel this one is the best she has ever done. It was a beautifully creative show.
The set by Keil JT Gailer was impressive but simple; with rear cross beams decked with stylised horses heads that nicely indicated a stable. The centre was a rise with four boxes that swerved as psychiatrist’s office. Other pieces of action took place just off the rise at the side and in front.
I don’t usually go such lengths to talk about the set, but it was the ingenious design that helped the play to keep up a pace that was cracking all through and kept the mysteries and tension to the fore The first act ran for one hour 20 minutes and there not once did I check my watch, in fact I was surprised when the act ended.
The story is about the teenager Alan Strang who blinded several horses in a rage-filled attack and was before the court. A judge, Hester Saloman, played by Josephine Dino, brought the young man, in an almost catatonic state, to top psychiatrist Martin Dysart in the hope that he could bring some peace to the troubled boy and solve the problem of his obsession with horses.
Slowly and intriguingly the boy’s story unfolded and kept the audience mesmerised.
The play is basically a two-hander with other characters that pop in and out of the action intermittently.
The roles of the two leads are huge but Dom Tennison as Dysart and Christopher Batkin as Strang handled them with such strength and power it was a pleasure to watch them work together. It was surprising to learn that Tennison has only been acting for four years. His performance would have graced any professional stage. The same has to be said for Batkin. He nailed the role of the disturbed young man, and hit all the right buttons with his anger, remorse, fear, and belligerence. It was a truly stellar performance.
The ancillary roles were also well played throughout. Claire Agente was stable hand Jill Mason. Her mix of innocence and sexuality was perfect as she seduced Strang in the nude scene, which was played with no semblance of self-consciousness from either party.
John Benetto was strong as Strang’s atheistic and disciplinary father and Katherine Morgan was the worrying Mrs Strang.
All in all it was a competent and talented cast, even down to the men who played the horses, very much in the Warhorse manner.
This is a show that deserves full houses.