Mockingbird Theatre: Equus

Mockingbird Theatre continue to produce theatrically significant plays whose influence continues to be seen and felt in contemporary theatre. And there’s no better way to understand these works than by seeing them. Reading a play is one thing, but plays are not created to be read, they are created to live and be shared with an audience. Mockingbird are currently sharing Peter Shaffer’s Equus.

Equus. Mockingbird Theatre
Equus. Mockingbird Theatre

Written in 1973, the UK production of Equus (Shaffer’s 12th significant work) went to Broadway and won Shaffer a Tony, Drama Desk and New York Drama Critics’ award.  Shaffer’s next work was Amadeus, which also won him awards. Equus most recently returned to Broadway in 2009 (and is mostly known because Harry Potter got his kit off).

It’s a Freudian play about a uncovering why a young man violently blinded six horses in a stable. Seen from the perspective of the jaded middle-aged shrink treating the boy (Martin Dysart), it explores distorted and confused religion, passion and sexuality, and the writer is more certain about where to lay blame than the fictional psychologist is.

Chris Baldock directs a strong production that respects the text and reflects its famous productions. Its theatrical world is a stable where characters wait and watch the unfolding drama, while surrounded by the six horses who reflect the subconscious of the young man (Alan Strang) whose passion for the horses went so very wrong. It remains in the 1970s of the text, which helps to date the psychology practice and social attitudes (I doubt a contemporary Equus would resonate), while not detracting from any of the pain, confusion and desperate hope.

Highlight opening night performances were Soren Jensen (as Alan’s dad), Maggie Chretien (as Alan’s potential girlfriend) and Amanda McKay (as Alan’s mum). The horses were also terrific. Some performances were still settling into the size and intimacy of the space and felt controlled by the actors, rather than the characters, especially when characters should be listening and reacting to what they hear rather than to their cue.

If you haven’t seen, don’t know or simply love Equus, see this production; it’s a far better experience than reading the play and it’s a far better work than many of the shrink dramas that it inspired. And with an overwhelmingly positive reaction to its first shows, it’s already selling out, so booking is the best idea.

Anne-Marie Peard

Anne-Marie spent many years working with amazing artists at arts festivals all over Australia. She's been a freelance arts writer for the last 10 years and teaches journalism at Monash University.

Anne-Marie Peard

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