Dundee Rep take on Peter Schaffer's pony tale Equus
As Dundee Rep tackles Peter Shaffer’s signature work, Kirstin Innes discovers there’s more to Equus than naked celebrities horsing around
It’s not entirely down to Daniel Radcliffe’s torso that Peter Schaffer’s 1973 work Equus is undergoing something of a renaissance, but it was certainly the prospect of naked boy wizard that reignited interest in the play. It’s the kind of interest that Jemima Levick, set to direct a new production for Dundee Rep, is all-too conscious of. Levick is immediately aware of the shadow cast by Thea Sharrock’s celebrity-laden 2007 revival (which later toured with Alfie Allen, yes, brother of Lily). However, Dundee Rep’s decision to take on Equus has much deeper roots than that.
‘James [Brining, the Rep’s artistic director] has been interested in putting this on for a long time,’ says Levick during a break from rehearsals. ‘He read it, and became fascinated with it, as a teenager: he cites it as one of the plays that really switched him on to theatre. The touring production didn’t come anywhere near Dundee, so we didn’t feel it was too much of a threat.’
Equus is, on the face of it, a strange sort of play to have achieved such popularity and longetivity. It charts the psychological examination of a disturbed teenager, Alan Strang, who is sexually fascinated by horses, worships an equine god of his own creation, and is capable of shocking, brutal behaviour.
‘I’m interested in plays that make a comment about what’s going on now in terms of Scottish society,’ says Levick, ‘and I think Equus has got a lot of contemporary resonances that are still absolutely relevant. The idea of violence, horrendous acts of violence by young men, really interested me, and the shockingness of the crime Alan commits will always have an impact, but I think the most interesting thing for a contemporary audience is that we watch a psychologist explore Alan’s case. As a nation we’re fascinated by pop psychology - “I dreamt this so it meant this”. At a time when we’re all somewhat narcissistically in thrall to our own psyches, I think this exploration into a young man’s psychosis, by an older man at a different stage in his life has real appeal.’
However, she is conscious of the need to create something distinctly different from Sharrock’s production. The auditorium space at Dundee Rep is being rebulit in order to stage the play in the round, with a set that can respond to the morphing scenes of the play, representing an academic lecture hall, Grecian amphitheatre or show-jumping paddock, all areas in which the audience is an active rather than passive spectator.
‘The audience are going to be right in there, in the action. I saw the touring production and I have to admit I don’t remember very much about it, which is probably no bad thing. But one of the things that struck me was that I felt very distant from it. It’s a very intimate drama, but we were kept distant.
‘What I’m trying to do is make it feel like an event, something that charges a new energy into the text. There’s a contemporaneity in it – hopefully we’re going to give it new life so people don’t feel like they’re just going to come and see an old play from the 1970s, or another version of a famous show.’
Equus, Dundee Rep, Sat 27 Feb–Sat 20 Mar.