Dundee Rep Ensemble
This production demonstrates two things very clearly: firstly how talented actors can pull off amazing performances even when just reading from the script and how much Dundee Rep desperately needs (and deserves) more funding so they can afford understudies.
Dr Martin Dysart the psychiatrist is no small part, a fact acutely obvious from the litres of neon green ink liberally smeared across the script in John Buick's hand, so when Duncan Anderson fell ill, Buick, who had been playing Frank Strang, stepped up to the task as he at least knew the staging. This, however, left another gap in the cast, so in jumped Crawford Logan to play the father of Alan Strang (Duncan Anderson), the play's troubled young lead.
Despite the last minute nature of the casting they both create on stage fully formed characters, to such a degree that the presence of the scripts fades till they are virtually invisible. In Buick's case it looked like the psychiatrist was merely carrying his noted on the patient.
Nor did the script or lack of rehearsal time impede their relationships with the other characters. Logan as the stern no-nonsense father showed the colder side of Alan's disunited parents, restrained and curt with Alan. Contrasted by Ann Louise Ross as Dora Strang, who gives a wonderful emotional performance as the mother, especially in speech to Dr Dysart about who is to blame.
While the parents struggle in understanding their son, the relationship between Dysart and Alan is much deeper. The actors achieve a relatively equal waxing and waning in who to sympathise with, as, though Alan starts tarnished with a crime, Dysart proves to be a far from perfect individual and both open up to a disturbing degree through the play.
Anderson manages to be both a sympathetic and a scary character, giving both an understanding of Alan's backstory yet never quite letting us understand him. Physically his acting drew attention even when he wasn't really in the scene, he creates the teenage physicality but also that of a younger Alan in the flashbacks. This physicality was very important in the scenes of worship and bring something extraordinarily compelling to Alan's self-created religion.
Religion and its relationship with mankind is well explored by the piece. It is not all about religion though, it is also about sex and this was undoubtedly a very sensual production. In saying Anderson was strong physically that is not to diminish the stand-out physical performance of the four horses. This production had them in sweat pants and converse allowing them plenty of freedom to express themselves in dance and their sweating naked torsos made them very sexual creatures.
The naturalistic heads were a little at odds with the otherwise simple production, also being able to see their faces might have added something to their performance. However the lack of visible human face did separate them quite clearly from the humans, and when it came to the bows without horse heads they were all such hotties that perhaps their faces with the toned torsos would have been a distraction too far.
My feelings were not entirely bestial: sex and religion do manage to blend in this production as, due to intimate staging, the final scene does feel close to worship of Anderson's fine form.
An exhilerating beautiful experience, this production more than overcomes its setbacks to be something amazing.
I just hope the fact that the company can manage so well in adversity doesn't damage their chances of raising the funds so in the future they can afford luxuries like understudies.
Until 20 March
Reviewer: Seth Ewin