Equus

Peter Shaffer

The Rep Theatre Company

C

From 21 August 2016 to 29 August 2016

Rating: ***

Review by Graeme Strachan

The Rep Theatre company has come to Edinburgh's Fringe Festival with Peter Shaffer's 1973 play about the stableboy gone mad, the psychiatrist trying to delve into the depths of his broken mind and the reason behind the manic blinding of six horses under his care.

During the course of the treatment, Dr Dysart (played by Harry Mead) has to break down the many barriers that are locking young Alan Strang (Tristan Howle) inside himself with the help and hinderance of his stuffy but working class father and religiously over-dignified mother.

It's a minimally staged production, which suits the complexity of the play rather well, as Shaffer's ponderance on schismic attitudes and antithetical ideals is built upon difficult contradictions.

It's no mean feat to try and condense such a vivid and, at times, laborious story in a mere 90 minutes, and in fact, it had the unfortunate side effect of leading much of the ancilliary cast to almost speed-read their lines, rarely taking time for a pause, or even a beat, and certainly not a silence.

The story is a slow burn and The Rep's choice to try and get it done fast is a misstep. This was likely a reason behind the various people making quiet exits round the halfway mark.

That's a pity, though, as the work put in by the leads was still hugely entertaining, with Howle's horse-blinding patient stealing the show in his moments of sheer intoxicating vivacity. Special mention should also go to Hannah McClarron as Jill Mason, whose few scenes belie a humanity which shines through what would otherwise have been a peripheral and slight character.

Overall, it's a noble and brave gesture to put on a play such as Equus, one where the occasionally labrynthine dialogue and occasionally heavy-handed 1970s take on psychiatry and modern life veers from the poetic to the trite and is teetering on the edge of falling into quaintness.