Tuesday, July 18, 2006


In the interest of truth, I will state upfront that I am a member of the Brisbane Arts Theatre, have performed in numerous shows there over the past seven years, and my partner is also the director of Equus, the theatre’s latest production. Readers may therefore consider the following review biased; I can only encourage those readers (and everyone else) to venture out to Equus, and make up their own mind. Feel free to leave comments!

As a member of the Brisbane Arts Theatre, I can unequivocally say that Equus is the most daring production to be staged so far in 2006; and probably for several years before that. It’s an intense psychological character study; more therapy than theatre, and it’s a brave move for a community theatre best known for its mainstream fare of drawing-room dramas, murder mysteries, historical costume pieces and gentle comedies. The risk has paid off: this production of Equus is of a standard comparable to a professional theatre company, and is a credit to the cast and crew, and the theatre itself.

Equus was written by English dramatist Peter Shaffer over 30 years ago. It ran for over 1000 performances on Broadway, and won Shaffer the 1975 Tony Award for Best Play. In 1977 it was made into a film, starring Richard Burton as Martin Dysart, one of the main characters and the narrator of sorts. The play tells the story of Alan Strang, a 17-year-old boy sent to the psychiatrist Dysart for treatment after he blinds six horses with a metal spike. Strang, as we discover, is a horse-lover, so much so he constructs his own religion around the horse-god Equus. As Dysart explores Strang’s fragile psyche and what drove him to commit such a terrible crime against animals he ostensibly loves, he learns more about himself, and whether “sane” is a better way to live than “crazy” after all.

Peter Norton turns in a staggering performance as Alan Strang. He exposes himself both figuratively and literally, as the role involves a mental breakdown and full frontal nudity. John Boyce is more than his equal as Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist whose life has turned out far different than he expected. Their dynamic performances hold the play together – indeed, like his subsequent play Amadeus, Shaffer likes to focus on the sparring between two lead characters. Stand-put supporting performances come from James Fitzgerald and Joy McLeary as Alan’s bewildered parents Frank and Dora, and Celia Finter as Jill, the temptation that leads Alan from his own path of righteousness. Special mention must also be made to the four actors playing the horses (led by Shaun King as Nugget), in stunning silver-sculptered see-through horse heads, and 20-centimetre high “hooves” (built by Graham Mackenzie).

The stage is kept simple, with an enclosed set decorated only by the horse heads, which hang as watchful sentries when not being worn by the actors. Having all the actors stay onstage during the entire performance is an effective way of keeping scene changes short and the story moving, even though at times their natural movements (coughing, drinking water etc) are distracting. Lighting cues are for the most part clean and timely, and the few sound cues there are work well to enhance the action. Director Greg Rowbotham and assistant director Reneé Daly deserve credit for creating a simple yet dynamic vision; the story deals with almost supernatural elements without forgetting the harsh realities of a life affected by mental instability.

Equus deals with intense issues of identity, religion, illness, violence and sexuality. As mentioned above, it includes full frontal nudity, as well as simulated sex and mature language. It’s certainly not one for the kiddies, but if you like to be challenged by theatre, I heartily recommend it. It’s one of the best shows the Arts Theatre has produced in recent years, and I can only hope they keep a place in their schedule for intelligent, engrossing drama. The audience deserves that choice.

Brisbane Arts Theatre
Runs until July 29
Thurs, Fri, Sat nights @ 8pm
Sunday matinee 23rd July @ 2pmWednesday night 26 July@ 8pm
Tickets $22 adults/$18 concessionsBookings: 3369 2344


Anonymous said...

Even though I understand the reasoning, there was no need to predicate your review with the condition that you are associated with the Brisbane Arts Theatre and that the director of Equus is your partner.

If the production had been crap, no amount of up-speak on your part would've saved it.

But no, in this case, the risk taken certainly did pay off. And I agree, well done to all concerned.
I hope that Mr Rowbotham has a lot more directing years in him.



Jim said...

I was extremely fortunate enough to see Equus at the Sunday matinee with a small but most appreciative audience. I just wish to pass on my thanks to all involved in this excellent production. It is pleasing that the Arts Theatre has taken on a challenging and exciting piece of work such as this. Whilst all performances were of an extremely high standard, I wish to comment on the extraordinary performance of Peter Norton as Alan - here is a young actor with an amazing stage presence and his portrayal was just rivetting. Thanks to everybody concerned and here's to more risk taking at the best little theatre in Brisbane.

Girl Clumsy said...


Thank you both so much for your comments - I'm chuffed. I'm glad you both enjoyed "Equus". I agree it was a challenging play to take on, and it's great to see small community theatres like the BAT taking such risks.

Thanks for reading - knowing people are logging on to my reviews gives me extra motivation to improve them!

Cheers, Natalie.

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