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Chris Baldock’s production of Equus has proven the trusty steed on which Mockingbird Theatre has crossed the finish line on a mind-bogglingly-good first year.
Peter Shaffer’s Tony Award-winning 1973 play is the macabre story of a part-time stable boy who suffers a breakdown and blinds six horses. The script plays out as a psychiatric detective story, using drama to explore, evaluate and reveal. Shaffer re-examines the traditional definitions of madness by looking at the claims of a God-fearing mother (Amanda McKay), a television-fearing father (Soren Jensen), an unhappily married psychiatrist (Jeremy Kewley) and the disturbed young felon (Scott Middleton).
Kewley does the everyman banality of Dr Dysart perfectly, portraying the child psychiatrist in the early scenes as someone who has tamped down his conversation to one flat level of professional disinterest, gently peppered with some witty self-deprecation. He shows more and more emotional involvement as he moves towards an existential crisis: the realisation that his patient, Alan Strang, despite being desperately unwell, has felt ecstasy beyond anything Dysart, with his love of Greek drama, has ever experienced. The crux of the drama is this: if he cures Alan, making him into a functional young boy, the cure may well mean snuffing out that passion.
As Alan, Scott Middleton manages the demanding juggle of an infantile yet grown-up character with craft and competence. He makes Alan’s madness believable, his isolation tangible, and his motives sincere. Full-frontal nudity definitely requires a lot of nerve, and Middleton makes it seem entirely natural and not at all shocking, which is an art in itself.
Maggie Chretien as Jill – who lures Alan into Equus’s temple, which he then desecrates – is just gorgeous. Her Sloaney portrayal is coy and appealing, though it’s difficult to see why she’s even bothering with Alan, who is so skittish the pair is hard-pressed to move beyond holding hands. Elijah Egan lends light relief as the discourteously blunt Northerner Harry Dalton, the discombobulated stable owner who comes to regret taking a chance on Alan.
The anthropomorphised horses (Dylan Watson, Kellie Bray, Elijah Egan, Thomas Kay, Damien Harrison and Tilly Legge), visible throughout the entire performance, are the play’s famous coup de theatre. The nags react, shifting and whinnying during tense or revelatory moments, heightening the drama and making the production all the more spine-tingling.
The lighting is superb; the music spot-on and unobtrusive; the set exquisite; and the acting and direction top-notch. With this production, Chris Baldock’s Mockingbird Theatre proves beyond any doubt that it is one ensemble to really sit up and pay attention to.