No masking the power of Equus bridgeman art library

18th October 2007 at 01:00

Northampton's Royal Theatre wanted some meat in its autumn season and opted for horseflesh. David Zoob directs Equus as an ensemble piece. "There's terrific power when an actor walks to a mask, puts it on then turns to us as the spirit of a horse. It refers back to ancient theatrical rituals and challenges an audience," says Zoob. Suzanne Astell's design has an iconic horse head looming over the stage in corroded brass, while Roderick Skeaping's new score uses what Zoob calls "`unearthly sounds over a meaty bass, literally to hit the audience in the guts".

The production's 1996 setting should avoid distractions from jarring period externals though it means some updating of brand names. Television advertisements, despised by Alan's father, are the boy's "perfect shield", says Zoob. "He has stumbled across spirituality and transfers sado-machistic interpretations of the Bible to a horse. It goes terribly wrong when he finds this is not socially acceptable."

For Zoob the play revolves around the boy's analyst, Martin Dysart. "He has intellectual notions of a spiritual ideal, of a vivid way of living, transcending crass mediocrity." He has no sex life, nor a son, and meets with no response when he reaches out emotionally to the magistrate. "Finally, he begs her for help but she is frightened to trust in a personal relationship. "

Rehearsals have investigated how the incompatible Strangs ever came together. "They were irrationally drawn to each other. We improvised what they'd have been like when they met. There was physical attraction. And neither was so set in their doctrinal ways. She'd have seen an obliging, self-improving, decent man. He did not see her religiosity then. He had an inferiority complex and she wanted to look up to him."

Northampton Royal Theatre to October 26. Tickets: O16O4 32533

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers


Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar,, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today