30th April to 5th May 1979
Peter Shaffer was born in Liverpool in 1926, the son of middle class, Orthodox Jewish parents. The family having moved to London, Shaffer was educated at St. Paul's School before being conscripted for non-military service. He served as a 'Bevin Boy' in the coal mines of Kent and Yorkshire.
Shaffer embarked upon his writing career on resuming his education at Cambridge University in 1948, where he edited a student magazine. His first play 'The Salt Land' was written in New York where he worked for a number of years after his graduation.
Following the production of 'The Salt Land' on British Television, and 'The Prodigal Father' on radio, Shaffer gave up his job at Boosey and Hawkes in London to write full-time. A number of novels and television scripts followed, before his first major stage and film success 'Five Finger Exercise' was produced in 1958. The play ran for two years in London and New York and marked the beginning of a stream of celebrated works, including 'The Private Ear and Public Eye', 'Black Comedy', and the dramatic masterpiece 'The Royal Hunt of the Sun'.
'Equus' was first produced at The National theatre in 1973 and drew acclaim from critics throughout Britain and America, where it was awarded Tony Award for the Best Play of 1975.
|Martin Dysart||James Smith|
|Heather Salmon||Mollie Manns|
|Alan Strang||Gary McComb|
|Frank Strang||Graham Buchanan|
|Dora Strang||Ann Dalgleish|
|Harry Dalton||Beckett Pennington-Leigh|
|Jill Mason||Belinda Drew|
|The Six Horses|
|Brian Whitaker||Janet Courtice|
|John Burrows||Ann Archer|
|Hazel Burrows||Tony Lawther|
|For the Maskers:|
|The Director||Peter White|
|Stage Manager||Joy Wingfield|
|Assistant Stage Manager||Valerie Barwell|
|Lighting Design||Derek Jones, Clive Weeks|
|Lighting Operator||Clive Weeks|
|Sound||Ron Tillyer, Chris Jones|
|Set Design||James McDowell, Graham Buchanan|
|Set Construction||John Riggs, Mike Johnson, John Burrows, Keith Hooper, Ron Tillyer|
|Wardrobe||Lilian Gunstone, Meri Lawther, Audrey Whitaker|
|Properties||Bristol Old Vic|
|Movement||John Carrington, Andrea Welfare, Crawford Logan|
|Business Management & Publicity||Graham Buchanan, Brian Stansbridge|
It is difficult to believe that it is fully six years since the first production on 'Equus' Peter Shaffer's play about the psychiatric treatment of a boy who blinds six horses, was an immediate success in London and New York and has been filmed, somewhat less successfully. There are two main characters, the boy Alan, and an even bigger part, Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist. Dysart envies the boy's capacity for worship and is unhappy in his own marriage. In fact the themes of loss of worship in English society, and especially, repression of natural instincts in the world of the cathode ray tube are finely woven into the fabric of the play.
The packed audiences at the Nuffield Theatre this week for the Maskers Theatre production testify to the continuing popularity of the play. But anyone who takes it on has to attack it in a big way, because there are considerable production difficulties. Six people wearing masks have to play the part of horses; the boy Alan and the stable girl Jill have quite a long scene where they appear nude. Peter White's production was splendid. Apart from occasional uncertainty by the 'horses' caused by the constraints of a stage made to look surprisingly small, the cast gave it all they had. James Smith, in his third Nuffield appearance this season, was a fine, tortured psychiatrist and Gary McComb in his faded jeans and hooded jerkin, fairly spat out his mixed-up psyche. Although an absorbing theatrical evening, due partly to the brilliance of the play's first director, John Dexter, it has been pointed out that some of he writing has question marks over it. It now seems over-long and over-explicit, and the ideas behind its 'loss of worship' theme a bit Sunday supplement gimcrack. Belinda Drew gave a poised, assured performance as Alan's girl-friend, but some of her lines were straight out of the Jackie. The play is on tonight and tomorrow, and well worth a visit, but it is heavily booked.
Six actors as surreal horses re-enacting the workings of a disturbed teenager's mind could so easily fall, but 'Equus' performed by the Maskers at Southampton's Nuffield Theatre last night managed to keep its head above water.
Peter Shaffer's play is of a rebel teenager who finds his fulfilment -- both physical and mental -- in the worship of 'The Horse,' a subconscious antidote to his parents and society. Gar McComb, as the boy, Alan, who has blinded six horse (the play explains why) was extremely impressive in a part which must be as emotionally draining to play as it is to watch. And full marks to Mr McComb and Belinda Drew as the girl, for the full frontal nude scene, which fainter hearted amateur companies may have been tempted to play down.
Told in a narrative interspersed with flashback, by the boy's hysterical psychiatrist (James Smith), this is not an easy play to follow and I fear for those of us who did not know it, many implications in the flood of dialogue must have been lost. The other characters -- parents, teenage seductress, lady magistrate, were very stereotyped, presumably intentionally, and their lack of positive impact added to the weird unreality of the boy's life.
'Equus' is not a play to enjoy, dealing as it does with a normal child, and he further problems 'normal society' will provide for him, but it is certain that once seen, it will not be forgotten.
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