When Peter Shaffer’s ambitious psychodrama Equus first opened at the National Theatre in 1973, it was instantly celebrated. Based on a true story, the script focuses on disturbed 17-year-old Alan Strang, on trial for blinding six horses in one night, and the confessions he makes to his equally troubled psychiatrist Dr Dysart. Tackling daring themes of madness, morality and homoeroticism, and, chiming with a period of upended cultural assumptions, the play shocked and thrilled in equal measure. It was eventually made into a film (with Richard Burton as Dysart) in 1977.
The last production of Equus in 2007 (in the West End and then on Broadway) made quite a noise for altogether different reasons. Directed by Thea Sharrock and featuring actors wearing giant skeletal horse masks and cothurni (block-like stilts), it starred Daniel Radcliffe as Alan, and, though well received, was largely overshadowed by prolonged hysteria over the Harry Potter lead’s on-stage nudity.
Now a new adaptation by Ned Bennett has opened at Stratford East’s Theatre Royal. It has no props for its horses and no stars in its cast, yet it is all the better for it. On a stripped back stage lined with white curtains, there are no distractions: simply and a boy and his horse, caught up in one of the strangest, most complicated love stories of our time.