I must admit I was sceptical walking into C +1 on Chambers street on this afternoon to see The Rep Theatre Company’s latest show. The late, great Peter Shaffer’s Equus is a difficult and exacting play to pull of normally, never mind performing a cut down 1 hour 30 minutes version at the Fringe with a group of young actors. In this case, however, I must admit my trepidations were completely unfounded and I discovered a compelling and very well done production that gets to the heart of Shaffer’s psychological drama.

Any fans of Shaffer or anyone simply looking for a rewarding modern classic this festival should definitely seek out this production.

Equus tells the story of Martin Dystart, a child Psychiatrist who takes on the strange case of Alan Strang, a boy who blinded 6 horses whilst working at a local stable. Through interviews with Strang, his family and former employer Dystart begins to unravel the reasons behind the horrific crime and the mystery of who or what the mysterious Equus is.

Little needs to be said about the script itself, it is a masterpiece of dramatic writing plain and simple. Shaffer is able to pierce right to the heart of the themes of normality and humanity’s constant quest to find meaning in their lives with a deft and gentle touch and each and one of his characters comes off as well rounded three dimensional people each struggling with their own demons and neuroses. The real question of any production of the play is how the cast and director handles the script, and here the answer is incredibly well.

The youthful cast do a wonderful job in addressing a text most professional companies would struggle with, and they do so naturally, with the performances not coming off as overwrought or stiff in any way. Particular credit must be given to Harry Mead and Tristan Howle who play Dystart and Strang, as they demonstrate a clear grasp on their characters motivations and have a wonderful chemistry together that makes every scene between them really come to life. The direction of the entire piece well is very well managed, with the production capturing the flowing transition between scenes that Schaffer was so fond of in such a way as to make the whole show seem slick and effortless. Whilst the decision to have the supporting cast onstage mirroring Strang’s own movements as he worships the horses creates a brilliant eerie atmosphere that sets you on edge and leaves you tingling with Goosebumps.

There are still a few stumbles here and there, most noticeably despite giving generally good performances Harry Mead and the rest of the cast playing adults are never quite able to get their physicality or voice quite right to make them convincing as being middle aged or older, which is particularly a loss for Dysart whose character is defined in large part by his world weariness. These are however minor quibbles, and the fact remains this is an incredibly well done production of a very imposing text by a young company. Any fans of Shaffer or anyone simply looking for a rewarding modern classic this festival should definitely seek out this production. 

Reviews by Joseph McAulay

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The Blurb

Simple? He loved horses. This intense production of Shaffer’s appealing yet disturbing psychodrama offers insight into the motives behind one boy’s frenzied attack on the creatures closest to his heart, perhaps reflecting our own moral blindness. Definitely not horseplay. This acclaimed company returns to the fringe for the tenth time with a revival of its celebrated production from 2015: ‘Here’s a treat to remind us why we still go to the theatre... a fast-paced drama, by turns funny, disturbing, intellectual, haunting. Sharp direction and polished acting... ’ (ThreeWeeks).