By Jeremy Miles
Even though it was written nearly 40 years ago, Peter Shaffer’s Equus remains a frighteningly relevant drama. Michael Cabot’s new production for London Classic Theatre shines an unflinching light on the ills of a society that reacts without understanding. It also makes the absolute most of Shaffer’s searing argument that even the most abominable acts sometimes have causes that could and should be addressed.
Based on a true-life incident, it focuses on a brilliant psychiatrist treating a delusional 17-year-old stable-lad who has blinded six horses with a metal spike. As the angry public bay for retribution, the doctor discovers that his patient, Alan Strang, has been failed by both his family and the education system. The psychoanalytical profile that emerges is casebook gold for students of Freud and Lacan. Strang is sexually obsessed with horses and consumed by a complex inner-world that combines worship and myth.
Malcolm James is superb as Dr Martin Dysart - tired, frustrated and (despite the appalling crime) increasingly in awe of his patient’s ability to escape the drab realities of small-town life. A scholar of Greek antiquities, he laments the suburban he spends pouring over art books and marvelling at pictures of mythological statues and carvings. Here he has a human being who has effectively tried to actually turn himself into a centaur.
Dysart’s frail psyche shatters as he draws the demons from his patient with science, reason and a little psychological trickery only to become possessed by a kind of divine equine madness.
Matthew Pattimore as Strang meanwhile gives a performance that perfectly conveys the isolation, desperation and fear of the severely disturbed. Educationally malnourished but fiendishly clever he seeks out his therapists weaknesses with deft, knowing skill and devastating results.
An excellent set designed by Kerry Bradley and atmospheric lighting by Paul Greenfocused the production wonderfully. There was a fine supporting cast too including, notably, Aiden Dowling as Nugget - Strang’s favourite horse.
*London Classic Theatre’s production of Equus plays Lighthouse in Poole until Thursday November 3.