Tag Archives: Ned Bennett

Equus

Equus
★★★

Cambridge Arts Theatre & UK Tour

Equus

Equus

Cambridge Arts Theatre

Reviewed – 26th March 2019

★★★

 

“Ira Mandela Siobhan’s physical work is outstanding; it is the best kind of theatrical alchemy to watch him embody this elegant, muscular, powerful animal”

 

Moments into Equus, we discover that the seventeen year old Alan Strang has blinded six horses with a spike, in the stable in which he works. As the play unfolds, we journey with Martin Dysart, Alan’s psychiatrist, into the depths of the boy’s psyche, and come to understand what has led him to commit this atrocious act. In the process of treating Alan, Dysart’s psyche too comes under the microscope, and he examines himself, his marriage, and his profession, and finds himself wanting. Dysart is enraptured by the art and culture of Ancient Greece, and Alan has created his own magnificent pagan religion, headed by the horse-god Equus; the play thus also deals with the theme of spiritual need and desire in the modern world.

The modern world in this play is that of England in the 1970s; so, not so modern any more. And Equus, though still a finely wrought piece of dramatic writing, has not aged well. The prime reason for this is the clear undercurrent of misogyny that runs through the play. Women do not fare well in this piece, whether it be Dysart’s unseen wife knitting for the children she will never have or Alan’s obsessive and frigid Christian mother Dora. Even the lively, open young woman who works with Alan – Jill Mason – is seen to be part of the same underlying problem: these women are ultimately mired in the prosaic, literal, domestic world, and as such can only drag men down, and away from their pure, mythic inheritance. This is an old trope, it is writ large here, and as such begs the question, why is Ned Bennett choosing to tell this story now? In 21st century Britain, we are not short of male myth-makers in love with the classical past – Jacob Rees-Mogg and Boris Johnson spring to mind for starters.

That said, there are some extraordinary moments in this production, and Shelley Maxwell’s exceptional movement direction certainly deserves every award going. The play opens with a movement sequence between Alan (Ethan Kai) and the horse Nugget (Ira Mandela Siobhan) which sets the tone for the strength and erotic beauty of these scenes throughout. Ira Mandela Siobhan’s physical work is outstanding; it is the best kind of theatrical alchemy to watch him embody this elegant, muscular, powerful animal. Keith Gilmore brings Trojan to life in a similar way, and the world of the horses in this production will definitely be remembered in the annals of theatrical history. Alan’s central nightmare sequence was also extraordinarily powerful; the ideal marriage of physical work, a strong directorial eye and excellent sound and lighting design – special credit here to Giles Thomas for his perfectly judged original score.

Ned Bennett’s direction is not understated. It is an assault. When it works it is breathtaking, but when it doesn’t, the crunch of bone on bone is simply excruciating, as here, in the ill-judged scene in the blue cinema, in which all nuance was lost. He is a force to be reckoned with for sure, and is clearly attracting some fine actors to his projects. Zubin Varla was tremendous as Dysart, holding the stage with every tic and nicotine-stained breath, and Ethan Kai too was compelling – tense with the pressure of so much repressed love and pain until the dam finally burst. The stylisation of the satellite characters was a directorial choice that didn’t work for this reviewer, but it did serve firmly to keep them out of Dysart and Alan’s central planetary dance, which still holds a certain fascination.

 

Reviewed for thespyinthestalls.com

Photography by The Other Richard

 


Equus

Cambridge Arts Theatre until 30th March then UK Tour continues

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
A Song At Twilight | ★★★★ | March 2019
Cambridge Footlights | ★★★★ | March 2019

 

Click here to see more of our latest reviews on thespyinthestalls.com

 

Buggy Baby – 4 Stars

Buggy

Buggy Baby

The Yard Theatre

Reviewed – 13th March 2018

★★★★

“a beautiful elision of the comic and the tragic, the everyday and the fantastical”

 

Five of them left a country they could no longer live in, only Nur and Jaden made it here. Baby Aya wears a bright pink helmet to make her head round again, after it has been misshapen by sleeping in a buggy – they can’t afford a cot. Nur (Hoda Bentaher) spends most days at college, trying to make a better life for the three of them. Whilst Nur is out, Aya is looked after by Jaden (Noof McEwan), who describes himself as a “drug addict, refugee, can’t speak English”. Who could resist that on a dating profile, he muses. He is addicted to “leaves”, but each trip plagues him with visions of his lost wife, Yusrah, stuck inside baby Aya, and as he begins to chew more and more, the boundary between their everyday reality and his surrealist delusions begins to waver.

Baby Aya is played by grown adult, Jasmine Jones, whose characterisation is smart, funny and sharp, whilst still managing to remain always convincing as a baby. She is more insightful in her shrewd commentary than her parental figures, but hopelessly dependent upon them. In fact there isn’t a weak link across these performances. Bentaher and McEwan excel, as they move further and further apart.

The set is flawless. A one eyed bunny, a hovering wardrobe, white plastic chair to match white plastic fridge, an expanse of light pink carpet and a hula hoop in the corner. And almost out of eye’s reach, the axe hanging way up high on the wall under a sign that reads “In Case of Emergency’. The piece is impeccably designed all round, from the fantastically creative set by Max Johns, which works beautifully with Jess Bernberg’s excellent lighting design, to the ominous sound, composed and designed by Giles Thomas.

There is a danger at times that we lose the issues in this sense of surrealist spectacle, the severity of the situation dulled over and over by an element of play. However it is more likely that these issues get lost in each other as we weave from being a refugee, to a single mother, onto a drug addict, onto abuse, poverty, homelessness and PTSD. We are left with a sense of important issues being present, without them being tangibly discussed or resolved. That being said it is also an unfortunately necessary reminder that these issues do intersect, and that refugees are parents, students, addicts alike. It is certainly a refreshing, funny and engaging take on the refugee crisis and the ramifications of the lack of support for refugees.

This piece is a beautiful elision of the comic and the tragic, the everyday and the fantastical, and a definite must-see.

 

Reviewed by Amelia Brown

Photography by The Other Richard

 


Buggy Baby

The Yard Theatre until 31st March

 

 

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