Tag Archives: Trafalgar Studios

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

 

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Dark Sublime
★★★

Trafalgar Studios

Dark Sublime

 

Dark Sublime

Trafalgar Studios

Reviewed – 28th June 2019

★★★

 

“as the story unfolds, the main thread becomes a little tangled and indefinite”

 

There is a touch of Michael Keaton’s ‘Birdman’ as Marina Sirtis, best known for her role as Deanna Troi in ‘Star Trek’, takes to the stage to play a hard-working actress who, years on, can’t seem to shake the shadow of her biggest role. 

An eager twenty one year-old fan (Kwaku Mills) turns up at the door of a jaded, middle-aged actress (Sirtis) to interview her about a cult sci-fi programme that she starred in decades before, and they strike up an unlikely friendship.

The main narrative is spliced with scenes from an unaired episode of ‘Dark Sublime’. Living room furniture doubles up as hammy spaceship tech as Simon Thorp darts about, speaking to his chatty computer (Mark Gatiss) via his wrist with great urgency. The switch between ordinary life and sci-fi sets us up for a fun paralleling of plotlines – presumably ‘reality’ will eventually dovetail with ‘fantasy.’
However, as the story unfolds, the main thread becomes a little tangled and indefinite, combining multiple subplots of unrequited love, professional frustration, generational differences, as well as the tie between the LGBTQ community and sci-fi. It’s a bit much to have all of this going on simultaneously.

Writer Michael Dennis was clearly trying to interlace plot points as much as possible, but it thins out the audience’s focus. Marianne’s unrequited love of her best friend Kate (Jacqueline King), for example, partially overshadows the crux of the story, and gives cause for an ill-fitting scene of somewhat cloying sentiment between Kate and her girlfriend Suzanne (Sophie Ward). This scene then gives way to another snippet of ‘Dark Sublime’, but the clash of genre is now slightly bizarre and distracting.

Similarly, the effective use of living room furniture as futuristic hi-tech is diluted when the living room also doubles up as a hotel conference or a park, with no prop changes beside the TV screen showing either a picture of Alexandra Palace or a conference logo (Tim McQuillen-Wright).

Andrew Keates’ direction places a particular emphasis on Oli’s initial draw to ‘Dark Sublime’ as a gay teenager in a small town looking for a necessary escape: the few times it’s mentioned, Oli is bathed in red light (Neil Brinkworth) and stands to deliver a short but dramatic homily. But there isn’t that much stress on this particular point within the script, so it seems a little out of sync.

Whilst there are a few quippy lines, there is often a sense that you have to be ‘in’ on the joke, which, I presume, I wasn’t. On the whole, Keates and Dennis have been overly ambitious and tried to squeeze far too much in. There are a lot of interesting aspects touched upon – the idea of fandom in relation to an actor’s reality for example, or the tie between the LGBTQ community and sci-fi – but I think they would be best served if they didn’t have to fight so much for focus and stage time.

 

Reviewed by Miriam Sallon

Photography by Scott Rylander

 


Dark Sublime

Trafalgar Studios until 3rd August

 

Last ten shows reviewed at this venue:
Dust | ★★★★★ | September 2018
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

 

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