It is no secret that Equus is an ambitious play. Written in the early 1970s, Equus deals with societal expectations, young male sexuality, the problems with religion and psychiatry. Flaws in the script made some lines seem clunky and outdated which got in the way of their delivery, and the female characters are rather underwritten and almost entirely in tropes.
The play itself built up slowly, from a disjointed start, with a rising intensity aided by intermittent and rhythmically pounding music and unaccompanied singing, which played upon the primitive and ritualistic aspects of the personal religions and interests of the characters.
As a lead, Jonah Hauer-King was impressive, starting from the awkward, distressed 17-year-old patient, and ranging to the exhausting passions of religious furore associated with his own sort of god.
Ben Walsh was outstanding as psychiatrist Martin Dysart, bringing a soft world-weariness and bewilderment to the role, as well as the eloquence to attack the meatiest themes of the play. In particular his monologue addressing whether mental health conditions could be viewed as an integral part of the sufferer's identity, or whether societal expectations draw the line between health and insanity, was very powerful.
Credit: Johannes Hjorth
It struck me as a shame that this play should be famous for nudity. I would be deeply concerned if a friend thought that it was the most shocking aspect of the play; it just felt entirely natural, as well as being essential. That said, I do not wish to underplay the bravery of Jonah Hauer-King and Katurah Morrish.
I thought the chorus was underused, which was frustrating for one that was onstage the whole time. However, they skilfully augmented the scenes in which they played a part, due to Lucy Moss' stunning choreography. With that, and the costumes, they threatened, pulsed and scattered as one. A sudden and bustling cinema scene near the end was particularly visually impressive. This was helped by the costumes (Matilda Wickham) which picked up on the theme of the primitive and pagan. They were great, especially the masks for the horses (Emily Newton), which toed the line between realistic and stylised so that they did not seem either comical or too abstract.
The play is not perfect, and nor was this production. But there was a compelling intensity to be found there, among the charming snapshots and the gathering darkness. It shows the humbling breadth of Cambridge theatre, that students have the opportunity to create plays as powerful as Equus.
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Equus on at the ADC Theatre, 7:45 p.m. until the 31st. Get your tickets online at https://www.adctheatre.com/whats-on/drama/equus.aspx