Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play is the latest offering from the Bench Theatre company.
Based on real events, Equus tells of a psychiatrist’s attempts to understand why a 17-year-old boy, Alan Strang, blinded six horses with a hoof-pick while facing his own demons.
Director Alan Ward has set Equus simply and effectively, focusing his audience on Shaffer’s text; half-a-dozen hay-bales serve to represent a hospital, cinema, shop, and stable.
The play requires nudity and non-professional companies so often opt to avoid this. Bravely – and rightly – Bench thumb their collective noses at coyness and Jeff Bone, who plays Alan, and Leigh Cunningham, as his love-interest Jill, bare all in the devastating climax to the play.
Bone’s performance is effective, but centres on breathless suffering; it needs greater variety. Cunningham is wonderful as the upper-class Jill, eager to form a relationship with Alan, and both terrified and horrified at his near-possession by his horse-god.
Craig Parker, Sally Hartley and Ceri Tipler, bedecked in horse-masks, are also very effective cast members – particularly in the blinding scene.
The show however is, hands down, owned and controlled by David Penrose as psychiatrist Martin Dysart. Penrose never fails to deliver and his delicate balancing act between in-command doctor and damaged human being is a joy to watch.
Until April 29.