Equus started unexpectedly and quietly, with a young man donning huge, hoof-like, black boots centre stage. His inability to stand up in them was a theme echoed throughout the play by a succession of characters struggling to come to terms with their passion – or lack of passion – and frustration with societal confines.
The talented William McInnes entered the stage cigarette in hand and launched into his story, playing his role as the jaded, “menopausal” psychiatrist Martin Dysart with assurance and distinction. His struggle to know whether to subdue Strang’s unorthodox passion for horses and make him ‘normal’ or allow him to know passion he had never felt himself was credible and moving. My only criticism would be that his British accent seemed theatrical at times.
Likewise, Khan Chittenden gave an outstanding performance as Dysart’s patient, gradually revealing the nature of his fixation and eventually re-enacting it in all its outrageous glory. The much-publicised (dare I say anticipated?) nudity was anything but gratuitous and made stark the wild passion and complete obsession of this young man. Unexpectedly, Chittenden showed a talent for comedy, with subtle gestures and movements making the audience laugh more than once. We’ll definitely be seeing more of this Perth talent in the future.
Jodie Buzza was competent as magistrate (and Dysart’s muse) but the costume choice of clunky heels gave one the sense of a child who had raided her mum’s shoe cupboard. Recent Western Australian Academy of Performing Arts graduate Alexandra Fisher was a pleasure to watch as the beautiful and naïve Jill Mason.
The staging was superb minimalism used to full effect. Sliding glass panels surrounded the main stage, which was Dysart’s room. Dream sequences and silhouetted dances played out behind this room, with characters entering and exiting from side panels. A revolving panel centre stage was also effective. Pulsating, eerie music and lighting effects served to make the audience feel as if we were inside the heads of the protagonists.
Securing the southern hemisphere rights to Schaffer’s play was certainly something of a coup for the Perth Theatre Company and Artistic Director Melissa Cantwell proved they were worthy of the challenge.
I must admit, my preconception of the play was something along the lines of Mr Ed meets Eyes Wide Shut. I never thought humans could be so convincingly – and beautifully – equine. Equus was a disturbing, seductive and compelling production that continued to resonate long after the curtain fell.
His Majesty's Theatre in association with Perth Theatre Company presents
by Sir Peter Shaffer
Directed by Melissa Cantwell
Venue: His Majesty's Theatre, 825 Hay St, Perth
Dates: Saturday 12 to Saturday 26 September
Bookings: BOCS Ticketing on 9484 1133, BOCS outlets or online
*Equus contains adult themes, nudity and strong language