Equus by Peter Shaffer is a thematically and textually strong play, demanding vocally and physically, and best played by adults with a younger man in the lead as disturbed teenager Alan Strang. That is the way it would work best.
Think again. The Nottingham Playhouse Advanced Youth Theatre production sweeps all of those assumptions out of the proverbial theatrical stable in a thunderingly good production at the Playhouse's versatile studio space – the Neville Studio.
Shaffer's play about a young man who has blinded several horses in a fit of anguish and deep guilt examines the nature of religious worship and of misguided parental control and the disastrous results thereof. It also looks at passion and what that means to the two main protagonists.
Alan Strang ( a grippingly honest performance in an emotionally difficult role by Tom Martin) has been offered into the care of psychologist Martin Dysart. For the play to work these two roles have to be well thought through and performed with consummate skill and believability. Jacob Seelochan's portrayal of Dysart has a maturity well beyond the age of the young actor and he conveys Dr Dysart's own mentally corrupted impression of himself brilliantly.
This production is directed with great theatrical imagination by Sarah Stephenson and the style of playing for the cast of twelve produces some thrilling theatre and emotional tension in the ensemble. Always engaged, the cast are placed along the back of the space in a jury box and use their bodies and voices to support or disturb the story as it unfolds. At times quite eerie the ensemble also create vocal atmospheres through a build up of sounds/words and stamping of feet. There is a clever device of showing bags of evidence to the jury as the play unfolds.
The riding scenes are confidently and imaginatively done in particular the scene in the field of HaHa where Strang takes a horse called Nuggett for a ride that becomes an erotic experience.
Will Harrison and Eleanor Sharkey impress as the repressive father and mother Frank and Dora Strang and Paige Peddie gives a mature performance as Heather Salomon. Over all a superbly well performed youth theatre production of Shaffers' dynamic play of misdeed and psychological examination.
Equus plays until 16th August.