28/09/2010 - 03/10/2010
With 27 actors performing in three different shows, Long Cloud is embracing its next challenge. In this year’s production season the talented young actors throw themselves into three (modern) classics of world theatre: EQUUS by Peter Shaffer, THE MISANTHROPE by Moliere and THE SEAGULL by Anton Chekhov.
In EQUUS, Alan Strang has blinded six horses in a stable. Why? What drove him to do it? Psychiatrist Martin Dysart’s search for an answer, and his encounters with the boy, lead him to question the need for desire and worship in his own life. An explosive play that took critics and audiences by storm, EQUUS is Peter Shaffer’s exploration of how modern society has destroyed our ability to feel passion.
EQUUS gained popularity around the world for its recent Broadway and West End revivals starring Daniel Radcliffe (Harry Potter) as Alan.
WARNING: CONTAINS NUDITY AND COARSE LANGUAGE.
Tue 28 Sept, Thu 30 Oct, Sat 2 Oct @ 7.30pm, & Sun 3 Oct @3pm
Theatre Wellington Performing Arts Centre, 36 Vivian St, Wellington $15/$10 | BOOKINGS PHONE 04 238 6225 or EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org
LONG CLOUD YOUTH THEATRE
Whitireia Performing Arts Company
36 Vivian Street, Wellington
Telephone (04) 238 6225 | Facsimile: (04) 385 0486
Raw talent and commitment produces gripping triumph
Review by Helen Sims 29th Sep 2010
Members of the Long Cloud Youth Theatre group throw themselves into Peter Shaffer’s psychodrama Equus with courage and conviction, gripping the audience with their stripped back production of the modern classic. Performing such a complex play with non-professional actors and a limited budget is a challenge, but Wassenaar and his cast more than rise to it.
The story and themes of Equus are well known: a disillusioned child psychiatrist, Dr Martin Dysart, agrees to take on the care of Alan Strang, a 17 year old who has recently blinded six horses in a stable where he works. As Dysart delves deeper into Strang’s psyche, the boy becomes the focus of his own growing sense of dissatisfaction and dislocation with his professional and personal life. Dysart casts the boy’s crime and inner turmoil as a mythological struggle and questions whether the cure of pain-free normalcy which he knows he can provide is better than the deeply felt passions and beliefs that Alan has experienced. Repression, control and received meanings are put into direct conflict with worship, desire and passion – with Alan as the confused and angry middle man.
Ben Crawford plays Dysart as relentlessly neurotic and compelled to talk to the point of meaninglessness. The first and second half of the play opens with a long monologue from Dysart to the audience, and Crawford delivers these ably, alternating between professional detachment, cynicism and emotional intensity. It is a challenge for someone so young to play a character whose age and experience are a fundamental part of his disillusionment, but Crawford by and large meets this challenge. I was glad that director Willem Wassenaar had resisted the urge to visually age Crawford – despite his youth I found myself forgetting his age at several points.
As Alan Strang, Jack Buchanan is wonderfully understated and sullen throughout the bulk of the first half of the play – so that when the extent of his religious ecstasy is played out at the end of the first half it is stunningly powerful. Buchanan also does an excellent job of portraying Strang’s increasing vulnerability and confusion as Dysart picks away at him. He shows immense bravery in the final scenes, which require him to spend a long period of time on stage naked.
The play is dominated by Dysart and Strang, but the supporting case compliment the conviction of the lead actors well. My only quibble was with the at times overly-mannered performances of Andrew Gunn as Frank Strang, Vanessa Cullen as Dora Strang and Anna Harcourt as a nurse. It seemed as if their mannerisms (jerky and tense hand movements and facial expressions on the part of the Strang parents, exaggerated head tosses and a brisk stomp from the nurse) was to contrast with the realism of Dysart and Alan, but I found it jarred stylistically, and made the parents in particular to seem like caricatures. Cullen has an opportunity to break out in the second half when she visits the hospital, which she does well. As Jill Mason, Harcourt was far more natural, as was Dysart’s sounding board, magistrate Hesther Salomon (Alisha Tyson).
The story is largely told through Dysart’s recounting of his sessions with Strang and his meetings with Stang’s parents and former employer, although some events are played out in real time or as flashbacks. Wassenaar and his design team have elected to take a bare bones approach to the staging – as in Wassenaar’s Blood Wedding the wooden stage is bare except for six chairs along each side in which the actors sit in full view of the audience even when they are not actively part of a scene. In the absence of set, most of the effects are provided by the effective lighting design of Nathan McHendry. The costumes, by Andrew Foster who is also the set designer, left me unsure as to whether the production had been updated to the current moment, or set in the 1970s, when the play was first performed. Dysart, Alan, Jill and Hesther were all costumed to suggest a setting of now, whereas the Strang parents looked like they were in period costume – again, perhaps deliberately so?
The wooden floor made for an excellent base for the shoes worn by the three actors playing horses (Michael Boyes, Felix Borthwick and Lucy Suttor). The stacked shoes elevated the three actors above their cast mates and made an effective heavy clopping sound. Aside from this Wassenaar and Foster have again resisted the urge to go for masks or other aides, relying instead on the physicality of the performers. This pays off – there is something unsettling and majestic about the impassive horses, supporting the believability of Alan’s attraction to them. Latent homoeroticism is emphasised in Alan’s devotion to Nugget in particular, with Buchanan having to caress the bare-chested, androgynous Boyes.
The crime itself is not emphasised – what Alan did to the horses he adored fades into the background in the quest to understand why. Although at times the psychoanalysis of the play feels a little dated, Wassenaar’s and Long Cloud Youth Theatre’s bare bones production is gripping. It’s another triumph for the group, who have shown once again that raw talent and commitment can produce far more stimulating work than more fully padded ‘professional’ productions.
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