Peter Shaffer’s endlessly revived classic about a troubled boy who blinds four horses and the psychiatrist who treats him is an odd mix of compelling mystery and disarming theatricality that frequently runs the risk of getting bogged down in its own heavy symbolism and long-winded arguments about the drawbacks of psychiatry, and the power of sex, religion and the imagination.
Jemima Levick’s imaginative handling of the source material largely succeeds in calling attention to the play’s strengths, however. While Alex Lowde’s glaring white set is initially distracting, the decision to stage Shaffer’s play in the round on a virtually empty stage with only nominal props, thus emphasising the theatricality of the piece, leads to some moments of intense power, particularly in those scenes in which the psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Robert Paterson) gradually draws out the back story to Alan Strang’s (Duncan Anderson) shocking actions.
Paterson, while proficiently ringing the changes as the disappointed middle-aged shrink who comes to question his own sense of purpose, is saddled (sorry) with some of Shaffer’s wordier monologues, which feel somewhat anti-climactic following the powerful flashback scenes tracing the boy’s upbringing and the development of his religious/sexual passion for the horses. Anderson delivers an impressively intricate performance as Strang that captures the boy’s magnetic, enigmatic otherness as well as his hostility and vulnerability, and this forms a large measure of what makes the production so engaging.
Dundee Rep, until Sat 20 Mar