Tag Archives: Shelley Maxwell

Equus

Equus
★★★★★

Trafalgar Studios

Equus

Equus

Trafalgar Studios

Reviewed – 15th July 2019

★★★★★

 

“to praise each element of Equus individually is unfair, because it is the tandem of these parts that makes the production truly divine.”

 

It isn’t uncommon to see a play emotionally move an audience – to make them feel the pathos or joy that the characters are experiencing. However, I could count on one hand the number of times I’ve seen theatre physically move an audience – to make them lean forward, gasp, and let their jaws hang for extended periods of time. It’s a testament to the power of Equus, then, that the audience member sat next to me – along with many others – barely seemed to even be in their seat, so moved were they by the ferocious and sinewy stallion of a play that was taking place.

Equus centres on Alan Strang (Ethan Kai), a seventeen-year-old boy who blinded six horses over the course of one night. It rests with psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Zubin Varla) to uncover the motivation behind the crime, although in doing so he is also forced to interrogate his own beliefs on religion, passion, and purpose. The story is framed chiefly around this patient-doctor dynamic, although a host of other characters are implicated in Martin’s analysis, including Alan’s parents Dora (Doreene Blackstock) and Frank (Robert Fitch), forming a claustrophobic and tense psychological drama. But the true genius of Peter Shaffer’s writing (also of Amadeus fame) is that this paradigm is only one of the levels on which Equus operates; bubbling under the scientific surface is a much more non-secular interrogation of the social and cultural values that cultivated the environment in which Alan could be compelled to carry out such acts as he did. Shaffer’s rhetoric can be transcendentally poetic, weaving metaphor upon metaphor into a textured tapestry that cuts to the very core of what it means to be alive.

The writing never strays into the territory of being overly-ruminative though. Ned Bennet’s visceral and kinetic direction ensures that the intellectual complexities of the play are being constantly physicalised and theatricalised, with the help of Shelley Maxwell’s inventive and raw movement direction; Alan’s bed being used as a trampoline on which he is brutally flung around under a vicious strobe light, for example, serves to manifest the emotional realities of the character. This is heightened tenfold by the soul-searing strings of the sound design (Giles Thomas), the unnerving, subliminal lighting (Jessica Hung Han Yun), and the slick and stripped back set design (Georgia Lowe). The performances, too, are roundly sublime – Varla especially is revelatory, fully owning the hefty language of his many monologues, immaculately delivering the thematic nuance of the speeches with drive and agency. Credit must also go to the transportive ensemble and animal work, as many of the cast also embody horses during the play, particularly Ira Mandela Siobhan as Nugget.

However, to praise each element of Equus individually is unfair, because it is the tandem of these parts that makes the production truly divine. The quality of the writing exacerbates the direction, which exacerbates the performances, which exacerbates the design, and so on ad infinitum. It constructs a whole reactor of impeccably crafted atoms, all meteorically colliding with each other in a seamless symbiosis that creates the nuclear level of theatrical and spiritual energy that is transferred to the audience and galvanises them to move. Equus is utterly celestial.

 

Reviewed by Tom Francis

Photography by The Other Richard

 

Equus

Trafalgar Studios until 7th September

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
A Guide for the Homesick | ★★★ | October 2018
Hot Gay Time Machine | ★★★★★ | November 2018
Coming Clean | ★★★★ | January 2019
Black Is The Color Of My Voice | ★★★ | February 2019
Soul Sessions | ★★★★ | February 2019
A Hundred Words For Snow | ★★★★★ | March 2019
Admissions | ★★★ | March 2019
Scary Bikers | ★★★★ | April 2019
Vincent River | ★★★★ | May 2019
Dark Sublime | ★★★ | June 2019

 

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

 

Grey

Grey
★★

Ovalhouse

Grey

Grey

Ovalhouse

Reviewed – 2nd July 2019

★★

 

“Structurally, the show was rather like an album, comprised of different tracks, but, aside from the closing piece, they all sounded pretty much the same”

 

Grey is an intensely personal show. Written by Koko Brown, who is also one of the two performers, it is an autobiographical account of her own struggles with depression. It is honest, and it is real, and Koko herself radiates warmth, strength, fragility and creativity. To sit in the audience with a notebook and pen felt intrusive, as if I was being asked to critique her pain. So, to be clear: it is the artistic shaping of that pain that is being written about here. Nothing can take away from the truth and validity of Koko Brown’s lived experience.

The show has a simple format. Koko shares the stage with another performer, Sapphire Joy, who interprets – through a mixture of sign language and signifying gesture – what she is saying. Or at least, sometimes that’s what she does. Sapphire busts out of her interpreter role on occasion, to directly challenge or confront Koko’s narrative, though still remaining in the realm of sign and gesture. Sapphire also signs the music. Koko mixes live beats throughout, using her loop station, and frequently sings over the top, and one of the real pleasures of this piece was watching Sapphire Joy physically embody those sounds. Fantastic work, and another instance in which Shelley Maxwell’s superb movement direction shines.

The integration of a signing performer into the work felt exciting, and provided some welcome moments of theatre, especially when the two women interacted, although there were also a few sections of unspoken dialogue which were unclear to the audience, and which, judging by the animation of the performers, it seemed a shame to be missing out on. There was also a terrific section towards the end of the show in which the poetry rose up out of the narrative and Koko then opened her voice into a great howl of pain, triumph and pure being. Unfortunately, these moments were little and late.

Making a perfomance piece about depression is always going to be problematic, as it is a condition of repetitive stasis, which is inherently undramatic; this conundrum wasn’t resolved here, and the show lacked pace and tonal variety. The enforced gaiety which is clearly exhausting for the sufferer, was equally exhausting for the audience, and went on for far too long. Also, the theatrical elements in the staging – giant hanging origami birds, for example – seemed completely arbitrary. Structurally, the show was rather like an album, comprised of different tracks, but, aside from the closing piece, they all sounded pretty much the same.

 

Reviewed by Rebecca Crankshaw

Photography by Mariana Feijó

 

Ovalhouse

Grey

Ovalhouse until 13th July

 

Previously reviewed at this venue:
Medea Electronica | ★★★ | January 2018
Random Selfies | ★★★ | March 2018
This Restless State | ★★★ | March 2018
Standard:Elite | ★★★★★ | May 2018
Austerity & Me | ★★★★ | June 2018
The Croydon Avengers | ★★★ | June 2018
Undersong | ★★★★★ | June 2018
A Pocketful of Bread | ★★★ | September 2018
Rejoicing At Her Wondrous Vulva … | ★★★★★ | May 2019

 

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