Review: Equus is Transcendental Art

It’s easy to tell when art transcends mere entertainment. When art does this—when it achieves more than just laughter, escapism or distraction—it evokes emotion, raises questions that linger and haunt long after the temporary highs of witnessing its spectacle. I can say without reservation after seeing it on its opening night at the Little Carib Theatre, that Equus is transcendental art.

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Peter Shaffer’s Equus at the Little Carib Theatre | Photo Credit: Stefan Simmons

A chilling, complicated portrait of a psychiatrist’s case with a troubled young boy who inexplicably blinds six horses one night, The Players Workshop’s ambitious production of Peter Shaffer’s venerated play offers a theatrical experience that lives up to the demands of such a popular and highly regarded work. In the capable hands of veteran director, Mervyn de Goeas, and through some truly phenomenal performances, Equus came alive on stage, capturing the nuance, the emotional impact and the profundity of the central conflicts inherent in Shaffer’s script.

The story is told through the eyes of  Martin Dysart; child psychiatrist in the grip of a mid-life, mid-career crisis that threatens to undermine and upend his life’s work. This character is a complex, thoughtful, nuanced one. For this production, Michael Cherrie stepped into Dysart’s shoes and wore them perfectly. The clear eloquence with which he delivers his lines, the pensive introspection, the gut-wrenching despair that looms just on the horizon of this character’s persona, Cherrie embodied all of this in the best theatrical performance I’ve seen all year. The part is a wordy one, filled with heavy, philosophical monologues and Cherrie is successful in his portrayal.

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Michael Cherrie (center) as Dr. Martin Dysart | Photo Credit: Peter Sheppard

Makesi Algernon’s turn as the horse-obsessed teen was also quite good. Another complex portrayal that called for nuanced acting, Algernon played the sullen, irreverent boy well. The aura of the uncanny that was mentioned by the other characters about Alan Strang often came through in Algernon’s portrayal. He handled the various, almost contradictory emotional sides Strang well. The rebellious, angsty side; the moments of desperation and despair; and even the moments of insurmountable passion and fervour rang true, thanks to Algernon.

Cecelia Salazar and Wayne Lee-Sing as the Strang parents were also splendid n their roles. Salazar was particularly good as the overly Christian mother, her experience and skill shining in this role. Lee-Sing also captured the over-compensating, staunch father convincingly. I particularly liked his little quirk where he rocked on his heels when he talked. It added an authentic feel to the portrayal.

The rest of the cast performed their parts well enough. Iyepha Biggot’s turn as Alan’s love interest, Jill, left a little to be desired, but when it worked, it worked. Her delivery of lines would sometimes betray her inexperience in comparison to the other actors, but all in all, her performance was decent. The decision to use such muscular models as the horses worked nicely as visual metaphors for me. Their glistening, toned bodies, the almost elegant way they stepped across the stage, combined with the intricately crafted horse heads made the conceit believable and effective. I must also mention their uncannily good horse sounds. There were moments where I wondered whether they were not just using actual, recorded horses.

 

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Jill Mason (Iyepha Biggot) and Alan Strang (Makesi Algernon) | Photo Credit: Peter Sheppard

On the technical side, the play was successful as well. The manipulation of lighting to navigate the fluid shifting between flashbacks and present time was done flawlessly. Beyond telling time, the lighting was used effectively throughout: a blue spotlight on the prone figure of Algernon as he recounted something traumatic, or lights shining up ominously from beneath the row of actors standing on wooden crates, there were many moments like these where lighting effects elevated the impact of the scenes. I also enjoyed the way wooden sticks were used to add rhythm and to mimic horse hooves. The image of the actors in the background, trance-like and hitting their sticks added some kinetic tension to a couple scenes as well, compounding their role as a peek into the inner emotional state of Strang.

Equus was well-directed, well-acted, and an overall phenomenal experience. The questions that plagued Dysart were weighty questions worthy of consideration. What is normal? Why do we worship Normalcy to such a sometimes-detrimental degree? Dysart found in Alan a passion that he caught himself envying. It was a rare and all-encompassing passion that was wrapped up in what society considers mental illness. When Dysart begins to see the beauty in the pain, the art in the madness, he wonders whether he has been butchering children all these years instead of curing them, whether he cuts away aspects of their individuality and their life. The ideas and philosophies Dysart begins to tangle with are potentially harmful ones. Mental illness is by no means a thing to romanticise. But this is art, and good art forces a mirror onto us and makes us examine the things that make us who we are. It makes us think about and question the status quo. Equus’s many themes- mental illness, childhood trauma, self-fulfilment, religion, passion, social norms and boundaries- and the way they are presented is the reason why this play is still as popular as ever and The Players Workshop’s production stands as tall and powerful as the rest.

Peter Shaffer’s Equus will have its final performance TODAY (Sunday 22nd October) at the Little Carib Theatre. For information and bookings CLICK HERE

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Nugget (Kameel Ali) and Alan Strang (Makesi Algernon) | Photo Credit: Peter Sheppard

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

FullSizeRenderHey, Shazim Khan here! I’m a student of literature at UWI, which happened as a result of a long time fascination with words in all their various forms and mediums. I also have a deep affinity for the arts on the whole, especially music of all genres – I’m an amateur guitarist.

I’ve recently been introduced to the fascinating world of theatre. The spellbinding magic that can be so expertly conjured on stage has captivated me and inspired a desire to learn and experience as much as possible of this timeless and magnificent craft.

 

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