Mockingbird Theatre is generating loads of buzz as cast and creatives get set to open the company's phenomenal third offering of the year. Directed by Mockingbird Theatre's Artistic Director Chris Baldock, the Tony Award winning play Equus, by Peter Shaffer, opens on August 3.

Read on as the extraordinarily talented Equus cast discuss their journey into and through this explosive play that took both critics and audiences by storm on its initial release.

So, please meet the cast of Equus:

Graduate of the University of Ballarat Arts Academy, Scott Middleton plays Alan Strang, (the character Daniel Radcliffe resurrected in the West End in 2007)  a disturbed youth whose dangerous obsession with horses leads him to commit an unspeakable act of violence.

"When I first read the play, the character of Alan intrigued me," says Middleton. "What is he thinking? What does he mean by what he's saying? Is he crazy or the most sane of them all? Obviously, after I was offered the role, I had to be careful not to judge him. But what I love about the play is the striking images we are presented and the opinions we are lead to form early on, particularly about Alan being a brutal little savage, which are then slowly, as the play progresses, broken down and as we come to understand Alan and his motivations, the opinions you started with are totally turned on their head."

"And to play the role of Alan is a once in a lifetime opportunity ( not only because you can't get away with playing 17 forever) but the demands, intricacies and challenges of this role are like nothing I have ever worked on before, so the excitement and fear factors are both incredibly high, which I love!"

Equus is Peter Shaffer's exploration of the way modern society has destroyed our ability to feel passion. As psychiatrist Dr. Martin Dysart struggles to understand the motivation for Alan's brutality, he is increasingly drawn into Alan's web and eventually forced to question his own sanity and purpose.

Playing Dysart is entertainment industry heavyweight Jeremy Kewley. Kewley made his professional debut in Fred Schepisi’s 1975 AFI award-winning motion picture The Devil's Playground and has been a constant on our stage, screen (both big and small) and radio ever since. A double AFI Award Nominee himself Kewley has also spent twenty years as the audience warm-up comedian for The Footy Show.

"Taking on the role of Dr Martin Dysart will be a huge challenge, as I’ll be exploring deep and dark emotions that will be unsettling, portraying a character who takes on the burden and the pain of a disturbed teenage client," confides Kewley. "Dysart is dealing with his own life crises and has, in the past, been able to juggle his personal demons with the needs of the many damaged children he counsels. But young Alan Strang causes Dysart to question almost everything he knows about his job and, more importantly, his life. The consequences are so massive that Dysart struggles to make sense of it all. He tries his best, right to the very end, but by the conclusion of the play he is actually worse off, and more tortured, than he was at the beginning. I know I will be challenged! So ask me how I feel again at the end of the production!"

Through her love of horses, Jill Mason becomes a part of Alan Strang's emotional and sexual complexity and it is another graduate of the University of Ballarat Arts Academy who gives her life. Maggie Chretien has worked with both director Baldock and actor Middleton before and relishes the opportunity to work with both creatives again because, she says, she learns from both of them every time she is around them.

Chretien  admits that looking at Jill and what she brings to the play is hard.  "I won't pretend to know everything there is to know about the play or its importance because I think those are things you learn along the way and from discussion with the cast and crew," she says. " But it's such an empowering role, one that will only make sense if I jump in head first and take the risks that I must. It is going to be a challenge – that's what appealed to me the most – that it is a challenge and this isn't a role you turn down."

Soren Jensen trained at Actors Centre Australia, and The National Acting School. He has also been seen on TV in Home and Away and Prank Patrol.  Jensen plays Alan's father, Frank Strang, a self proclaimed atheist with secrets of his own. Jensen was immediately struck by what a powerful piece of writing Equus was, the challenging nature of the subject matter and the shades of all the characters, nothing black and white about them, all human, all fallible.

"As a parent of a young child, playing the part of Mr Strang will challenge the part inside me that fears failing as a parent, have you made the right decisions, choices around the raising of your child," questions Jensen. "And how much do you blame yourself if they do something horrific, if you have raised someone that has brought pain to the world and how much responsibility and guilt is on your shoulders for that? I think it also addresses the point in your life where you see your parents no longer as people up on a pedestal, but as humans, with needs and wants, and who are capable of making mistakes, and seeing them as the fallible humans they are. Plus I’m just excited at riding a human horse in rehearsals."

Straight from playing Sybil Faulty, in Interactive Theatre International's Faulty Towers the Dining Experience, Amanda McKay is Mrs. Strang, Alan's Mother and a devout Christian who reads to her son from the Bible every night. Shaffer's exploration of religion and sexuality and the impact it has on Alan's mind is rife throughout the play. McKay believes the challenge for her in this production will be playing an incredibly influential mother who is zealous about religion but yet remains passive.  As Alan's relationship with religion and sexuality becomes twisted, his mother seeks answers and must probe deeply into self to find them.

"The attraction in doing a play like this is the opportunity to explore how our behaviours and beliefs impact others," she says. "Of course being a key figure in a dysfunctional family is incredibly attractive too!"

The multi-talented Sally Tatterson plays Hester Salomon, a court magistrate who asks Dr. Dysart to help a boy (Alan) who is being tried on her bench. Tatterson is a graduate of the VCA, and past credits include: a Dinkum Assorted; Gasping; Cosi; Summer of the Seventeenth Doll; Blithe Spirit; Waking Eve; Longest Lunch; Life After George; Ebeneezer original Adaptation by Clifton Kline; Mousetrap; Bridget Jones Diary Adaptation by Clifton Kline; Mum’s the Word; Grease; Rocky Horror Picture Show. Sally is also  a talented set designer who recently gave her expertise to Made As Us' production of Burning starring Libby Tanner and directed by Chris Baldock. Sally is thrilled to be a part of the Mockingbird ensemble for Equus and to be able to bring her version of Hesther into a cast of such amazing talent and experience.

Shaffer's horses become a central image and metaphor taking on the mantle of a Greek Chorus. Their importance in telling Alan's story is monumental as is their presence on the stage.

16th Street trained actor Dylan Watson acknowledges that Equus brings with it a whole new set of challenges. "I’ve often used animal work with my characters but playing Nugget will be an entirely new level," admits Watson. " I’m really excited about where it will take me! The play is absolutely riveting and quite dark – but with that darkness comes a very honest look at what shapes us as young adults. British playwrights like Shaffer and Pinter have this incredible knack for breaking your heart and making you laugh in the same minute."

Some may recognize Tom Kay from his role as Lord Quinten Daventry in the 1920s murder-mystery style theatre restaurant show: A Dinner To Die For but Kay is certainly flexing a different muscle for his Equus journey. Kay thinks that the idea of playing a horse in the style that Equus demands will be the biggest and most exciting challenge. Tom elaborates: "We are on stage all night and the choreography is going to be intense. As I'm not a trained dancer, any show that requires me to push my boundaries in terms of movement and physicality is an exciting prospect!"

Dublin trained actor Elijah Egan has worked across Europe and Australia in a variety of TV and theatre projects. Egan had wanted to be a part of the Equus project when it was announced at the beginning of the year.  "Any work that has thematic content of sex, religion or violence is always a challenge to present to an audience in such a way that the viewer is allowed to form their own opinion of the writers intent," says Egan.

Damien Harrison studied a Bachelor of Performing and Screen Arts at Unitec in New Zealand.  He has appeared on Winners and Losers and Neighbours and has wanted to work with Director Baldock since he had heard Mockingbird theatre were staging The Laramie Project last year. "I begged him to let me be a part of Equus as I love the play," Harrison says. "I have never played a horse before and committing to an entire show physically embodying a horse will definitely be challenging… and fun!"

Prolific actor Tilly Legge has appeared in over 40 shows with her favourite roles to date including : Salome in Salome for The Moat Festival, Joan of Arc in Jamais Vu at Trades Hall, Tiggy Entwhistle and Zoe Struthers in Bombshells, Rachel in group devised The Apartment and Chantelle in short film Palms Motel directed by Alkinos Tsimilidos.  However, Tilly has never been a horse. "Let alone played one so to say it's challenge would be an understatement," she says. "It's nice to have a break from complex character psychology and get to focus on something purely physical. We often rely on words as actors so it'll be tremendous fun to only have my body to work with. I can't wait!" 

VCA graduate Kellie Bray is a late arrival to the cast of Equus stepping into the shoes of the lovely  Lauren O'Callaghan who was unable to continue her Equus journey due to illness. Says Bray: "Stepping into Equus, a play that has long resonated for its epic context and language , the challenge is now, to perform the very work I was happily choreographing, in hooves and headpiece!" I guess that's showbiz, Kellie!

Equus plays: August 3 – August 17, 2013 at the Brunswick Mechanics Institute Performing Arts Centre, Cnr Glenlyon and Sydney Roads, Brunswick.


Photos: Chris Baldock.