Colic and spavin
A few updated advertising jingles apart, director Terry Hands' minimalist Equus revival avoids any sense of specific period, focusing attention on the actors.
Frank Grimes (playing Martin Dysart) joined the National Theatre company in 1974 when Equus was a recent company hit. He says that the printed text follows John Dexter's National production but that Hands has staged the work afresh and author Peter Shaffer has made minor script changes.
Grimes finds anger and despair in his character: "Hands described Dysart as Hamlet at 50, He's an anguished, menopausal individual as well as a professional psychologist."
This conflict builds through the play. "The boy's coming into Dysart's life is a turning-point. Alan Strang is his nemesis, wreaking his destruction. We must get the feeling Dysart will never be the same after the play."
He comes to revalue the meaning of words such as "normal". Dysart, the "overworked psychiatrist in a provincial hospital is not a happy man. He is kind and gentle as well as arrogant, an unhappy man in an unhappy marriage. " Oliver Ryan, who plays Alan Strang, came across the play as a modern classic at college. For all the violence behind the action, Ryan feels the play is distinguished by not seeking to shock. Strang is at an awkward age - too old for the school disco, too young for pubs. And he doesn't fit with the street-corner gangs: "He's not tough, not a scrapper. He doesn't fit in anywhere so he has created his own world. He was mollycoddled by an obsessive mother, had the TV taken from him and a lot of religion, especially the old Testament, read into him."
A problem is that Alan first appears one-dimensional; it is only when he speaks into the tape recorder that the vulnerability under the mask of toughness appears. "At first he says in effect to Dysart, 'I've blinded six horses. I'm dangerous. Stay away.' To the audience he seems someone you wouldn't want to pass in a dark alley." Yet areas of heightened dialogue - the bible quotes, the near-verse account of his horse ride - separate this young man from the urban vandals of many modern plays.
To November 19; 27-29, February 13-17; 25-26. Tickets: 01352 755114. Also Cardiff New, March 3-7. Tickets 01222 878889