Equus is Peter Shaffer’s potent play about a young man’s ordeal with mental illness and the psychiatrist who must work his way through the damaged maze that is Alan’s mind. The multi award winning work was written in 1973 and became a construct in Shaffer’s mind after hearing about an event in Suffolk wherein a 17 year old youth blinded six horses.
Brisbane Arts Theatre is presenting the provocative play for a limited season beginning July 30.
Brisbane based actor Chris Batkin is playing the role of the very complex young man, Alan Strang – a role which Batkin finds both intriguing and challenging.
“Alan is a really interesting character because when we first meet him he is a shut-in who can barely communicate with anyone,” says Batkin. “Everything he reveals about his life through his sessions with Dysart show him to be an ideological sponge. Socially withdrawn, sure, but he’s always listening to and picking up everything he can and adding it to his intricate collage of beliefs. This is the hardest thing, not just playing Alan as this closed off figure, but as someone who was once filled with that sense of wonder and adventure, and would quite like to be again.”
The play is deeply visceral and, at times, heart breaking, with theatrical rhythms reaching heightened crescendos, particularly when it comes to addressing what lies buried in Alan’s mind.
“Shaffer explores some great themes in Equus, ” says Batkin. “Spirituality, sexuality, and how those interact with each other. The development of children and young adults, the question of what’s more important, a strong passion or a stable baseline. Hero worship and indoctrination, and at the centre of it is Alan. Alan is a character who has been given this whole mess of conflicting ideas growing up and he’s created something that’s totally unique out of it, but it’s not really compatible with the world at large.”
Aside from the deeply emotional requirements of the character of Alan Strang, one of the many challenges that the actor playing Alan will face is the fact that Alan spends a bit of the play in the nude. Actors apply themselves to acclimatizing themselves this challenge in many different ways, but for Batkin, it was simply a question of doing.
“Just doing the nude scene made me feel more comfortable and come to terms with it, really. My main issue with the nude scene, was that there’s really no way of knowing if you’ll be okay with it before you actually have to do something like this – being naked in front of strangers is a hard thing to practice, legally at least. So I felt like I was going to be fine, but I couldn’t know, and that was weird. After rehearsing the scene nude, everything was fine, so there was really nothing to worry about in the first place.”
Shaffer adapted the play for a 1977 film starring Richard Burton but it was its 2007 revival on Broadway, and starring Daniel Radcliffe, that generated a new generation of fans.
Batkin says: “Equus is a dark play about the events that lead up to a shocking act of violence, and the way that the perpetrator and his psychiatrist both come to terms with what happened and the healing process. Equus delivers interesting characters, multilayered themes, nudity and violence, and a dark and intriguing narrative… what more could an audience ask for?”
July 30 – September 3