Here we go then. Right from the off, I want to make it very clear that I am reviewing a preview
of this production - a distinction not made by certain newspapers... ah fuck it, let's name and shame them one more time, it was The Sun
("9 out of 10 morons said they preferred it") and the Daily Mail
("A great read!" Mr A. Hitler.) Peter Shaffer's Equus
is at the Gielgud Theatre on Shaftesbury Avenue and opens officially
on the 27th of February.
To get you in the mood, here's the view as you approach the theatre. The Gielgud is undergoing major restoration work so it's surrounded by scaffolding at the moment. Making the best of it, the producers have covered the scaffolding in black and put up a massive Equus
poster on the corner. You can see it from several blocks away - yes, it's as subtle as the rest of the marketing has been.
So, on to the production itself. For anyone who hasn't read a newspaper, been on the net or generally got out of bed in the last month, Equus
is a sort of psychological mystery. Martin Dysart (Richard Griffiths) is a child psychologist reluctantly taking on the case of a violent teenager, Alan Strang (Daniel Radcliffe.) Strang is a stable-boy who one night blinded six horses. As Dysart works on him, he discovers a boy whose mother is ultra-religious, his father rabidly anti-religious, and who has taken these opposing infuences and created his own form of worship based around horses, and the god, Equus, that Alan sees in them. As the story goes on we slowly discover how this worship turned to violence - and Dysart begins to question his own empty life.
Dysart is the central character but this production has been all about Daniel Radcliffe and his stage debut. I won't lie, I was nervous about whether he could pull it off - his film work has been mixed at best and this is one of my all-time favourite plays. Ridiculously cute he may be, but that wouldn't have saved him from my wrath if he'd been shit. Fortunately, he was far from it. Early reviews have praised Radcliffe to the rafters - I don't know that I'd call his performance an unqualified success, but it was bloody good. A sudden, very public leap onto the demanding West End stage could have been downright embarrassing if he wasn't up to it, but not once does he seem out of his depth. His main problem - a tendency to be wooden - is still in evidence sometimes. Early on especially his performance is quite flat, Alan's short, aggressive replies being a bit one-note after a while. In this sort of role, in such a stylised play, he can can get away with it. It'll be interesting to see how he copes if he turns to something more naturalistic next.
One thing about him is undeniable: We've heard a lot about how he's been having vocal coaching for well over a year, and bloody hell has it paid off. His projection is flawless
. Not one word is anything less than crystal clear, it's as if he's sitting next to you. The cast may include veterans with decades of experience behind them, but Radcliffe wipes the floor with them. That's right, as far as sheer voice projection goes, Radcliffe shits all over Richard Griffiths (who, talented though he may be, has always been a bit of a mumbler.) In addition, he's lucky enough to have something no amount of hard work can get you, and that's stage presence. Despite his slight frame1
he's immensely watchable. OK, the fact that he's grown up so handsome - even the super-sexy photos don't quite prepare you for it - doesn't hurt, and I'm prepared to admit that, even after a 24-hour cooling-off period my judgement of his performance may be affected by how hot he is, but only slightly: Any compliments I pay him I believe.
The character of Alan has three major scenes, all of them flashbacks, and while he has his off-moments until then, when those scenes arrive Radcliffe nails them. Another element of his performance that'll stand him in good stead in his stage career is his amazing physicality, and he displays this in the first of these, when he regresses to 8 years old and his first ride on a horse. His sullen expression melts into real childlike glee. The decision to use dancers as the horses was an excellent one, and ballet star Will Kemp is a great choice for Nugget/Young Horseman. Kemp and Radcliffe together have a real visceral2
connection and my only reservation with this scene is Alan falling off the horse - he is gently supported by his father (Jonathan Cullen) instead of crashing to the ground. I can understand the need to protect their valuable young star from injury, but being such a physical performer a couple of fight workshops would have been enough for Radcliffe to master falling without hurting himself, and the scene would have had the sense of trauma it deserves.
The other two major scenes for Alan are of course the most controversial ones, firstly where he has an orgasm on horseback, and finally the infamous nude scene. Again, Radcliffe is spot-on and I'll mention these scenes again later (yes, I'm going to blab on even more, sorry.) In the one lighter scene he does get, where he goes to a porno cinema only to find his dad there, he also displays a good comic touch. The good news is, Radcliffe's worked hard for this part and it's paid off in spades. The bad news is I think he's always going to need to put this much effort in. But if he can get comfortable enough with the phenomenal pair of lungs he's got to not worry about projecting his voice, and focus on bringing more life into the quieter moments, we could be looking at a pretty impressive theatrical career. As for my question of "will he play Hamlet by the time he's 30" the jury's still out; but I'd give pretty good odds on him doing it by 35.
Now, I'm going to be massively controversial so please, no lynchings. I was a little bit disappointed with Richard Griffiths. Maybe it's the fact that, unlike Radcliffe, I expected
him to be excellent, so he had more to live up to. Here's the thing though: When I heard about the casting, I re-read the play, "hearing" Griffiths' voice for Dysart. It immediately made the lines better, and I even laughed at lines that I hadn't found funny before. And yes, his dry delivery does get some great laughs and he gets the character's pathos down to a tee. But the performance I saw onstage wasn't that
different from the one in my head, and I guess when you're talking about an actor of that calibre I want to see something unexpected. He does have some standout moments though, notably a gruesome dream in the first act.
Another note about Griffiths, and I'll say once again that this is a preview, with nearly a week to go until the Press Night, is that he doesn't quite
have his lines down right. It's understandable - Dysart has an enormous amount of dialogue, and several fairly similar speeches - but a couple of times Griffiths seemed to lose his place, and once he stepped on Radcliffe's line. The second act starts with exactly the same words as the first, and he seemed to be concentrating very hard not to launch into the wrong speech. I'll admit these are nitpicks and will probably be fixed by the time the "real" reviewers come in.
Some more reservations before I get back to the good stuff: The production is still a bit flabby in places, notably in the scenes where Dysart deals with Alan's parents. Overall the younger cast members come out of this better than the older ones, and I suspect this is because director Thea Sharrock spent more time on Radcliffe's scenes than the rest. The rehearsal period is never long enough, his scenes are pivotal, and I can't say in her shoes that my priorities would have been any different but even so, the older cast members seem to have been left to find their own way more than I would have liked. I hope Sharrock uses the remaining preview period to tighten up the smaller, more domestic scenes because at the moment this is where the production flags. And while I'm on a downer, Jenny Agutter doesn't have a very meaty part as Hesther, but she still could have done more with it; and while I did think that having an Irish actress as Alan's religion-mad mother was a bit of lazy shorthand, Gabrielle Reidy grows into the part and is believable.
Now back to the positive stuff: I've already mentioned Will Kemp. He and the other dancers playing horses do a sterling job, bringing the energy, grace or menace of the animals as the scene requires. The metal hooves on their feet look dangerously precarious but the performers are never anyhting less than energetic and poweful. Joanna Christie as Jill is also excellent - despite being several years older than Radcliffe she comes across as more youthful, with her sparkly, slightly dizzy performance never patronising her character. She's also genuinely beautiful - although slightly less glam when I spotted her while I was walking around to pass the time before going into the theatre (she was standing outside the stage door smoking a fag.)
I really wanted to be all mature and not comment on the nudity but there's been some really nasty comments made about both Radcliffe and Christie in the last few days, and I wanted to respond to that. Firstly no, Radcliffe doesn't have a particularly big cock, but it's not the embarrassment a lot of people have made it out to be. At worst it was on the lower end of average, I've definitely seen smaller. If anything I admire him more for the fact that it proves beyond a doubt his intentions in taking the role were entirely artistic, and not 'cause he has some mammoth schlong he couldn't wait to show off. If you really think he's freakishly small, you should probably watch less porn. Besides, Dan Jr. hangs out with some pretty big mates - his bollocks are fucking massive
and the willy's bound to look small in comparison. And that, ladies and gentlemen, is the kind of detail you won't be getting in the Daily Telegraph
's review. Probably.
As for Joanna Christie, the photo of the sex scene which appeared in some tabloids has led many people to snigger about her not having any tits. In the photo she is arched out lying on her back, with her head thrown back. If you don't know why she appears flat-chested, may I introduce you to the Law of Gravity
. Plus her boobs are what's known as "real" so they don't stay the same at all angles.
Back to Thea Sharrock and John Napier, the original designer from 1973 returning for this production. Between them they get the tone of the big, creepy scenes just right. The simple set, once again featuring audience members onstage, is brilliant. Napier's inspiration was those Victorian operating theatres, where members of the public could look down from high above and watch dissections. And yes, it does have this feel, but even more so for me it reminded me of a gladiatorial arena, with a number of passages surrounding the central circle from which instead of lions horses could emerge at any moment, beautiful or terrifying. The designs collide with the performances in the climactic scene of each act, that have a suitably nightmarish, hypnotic quality. In his final naked frenzy, Sharrock has coaxed real passion out of Radcliffe and as the ending makes clear, if there's one thing the actor playing Alan Strang needs to convey, it's passion.
So that's my review of the production. It's not the last time I'll be posting about Equus
, I'm still keen and nervous to see what the official reviews say in a week's time; and I'll be able to see if the preview's flaws have been ironed out with time when I see it again (this time in a stage seat) at Easter. Until then, there's just one more thing I have to get off my chest:
Sweet Zombie Jesus but the DanRad looks good naked. I mean, insanely good. All the bits we've already seen in the photos look even better, and the bits we haven't seen are just as good. The legs on that man! Having now seen every inch of him from top to toe - and as a bit of a "foot man" I give them top marks as well - how anyone could find fault 'cause he doesn't have a porno-sized willy is beyond me. And if you thought his arse looked good in the photos... let's just say it's a good job I don't believe in hell or I'd be going there.1
and I'm talking about his general build here, not calling him short. 5ft 5-and-a-half is a very respectable, manly height. The fact that it also happens to be my height has no bearing on me making this observation *cough*2
it's a theatre review, I have to use the word "visceral" at least once. It's the law.