Thursday, March 22, 2007

I've seen Harry Potter's Dangly Bits!

I saw the film of Equus so long ago that my memories of it are extremely vague. Mostly I remember Peter Firth, currently looking VERY different on Spooks as the MI5 boss 'Harry', with long ringlets of blonde hair doing strange things with horses in the dark, and of the whole thing being rather melancholic, if not just downright strange.

As a result when all the brouha blew up over the new stage version, featuring Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe naked on stage, my interest in going to see the play was close to zero. I've not liked any of the Harry Potter film franchise (boring, poorly acted dreck!), and I don't really think, based on the Potter movies, that Radcliffe can act, although I'd have to concede that he gave a surprisingly good guest turn in Ricky Gervaise's Extra's TV series.

So I'm grateful to my good friend Miss Deadline for booking a bunch of tickets for herself and other friends, and asking me to join them. I guess when the major star of an internationally huge film franchise makes an appearance on a small West End stage, with people flying half-way round the world to see him, you really should make the effort to go and see what's not much more than a few steps away from your front door (or that was the excuse I made to myself when accepting the ticket offer)!

Arriving at the theatre we were surprised at the make-up of the crowd: not the ogling teenage girls and gay hairdressers we'd expected, but a smartly-dressed older crowd. Admittedly this impression changed a little during the intermission, on encountering very obvious groups of 'the gays' outside the front entrance having a 'fag' break (ho! ho! See what I did there?), but even so, this was primarily a traditional theatre crowd with little of the obvious Harry Potter franchise fan base demographic being in evidence. Listening in to conversations, and discussing the subject with those in our party, it was interesting to hear how many people HADN'T told friends what they were seeing, for fear of ridicule after all the publicity given when some beautifully shot photo's of a buffed-up Radcliffe half-naked had appeared all over the main-stream press. It seems that nobody wants to be perceived as a letch, particularly when the apparent object of desire hasn't quite reached 18 yet!

In the event, the much publicised nudity (which includes a completely naked young female as well - funny how none of the press reports mentioned that!) was nowhere near as gratuitous as it might have at first appeared. In fact I would argue the nudity was warranted to give the final scenes the credibility and shock value the play demanded. Perhaps the most telling insight on this whole 'homo-erotic' back story is that when Miss Deadline commented that Radcliffe 'had a nice arse', I had to say I hadn't even noticed (honestly!) as I was wrapped up in the drama on stage more than the physical attributes of the actor enacting that drama. In answer to the predictable questions I know I am going to be asked, I can't remember much about Radcliffe's physical attributes other than a vague recollection that he appeared to be 'a ginger' down below (too much information, I know!)

Daniel Radcliffe with a real horse in a promotional shot for Equus

The play is much lighter than I remembered the film being, with amusing lines liberally scattered throughout the play's duration. However, the basic story of a troubled young man and the psychiatrist trying to treat him remains the same. The youth has unexplainedly blinded six horses under his care, animals he had previously had an almost obsessive devotion to, and as the play unfolds the psychiatrist attempts to unravel the events that lead up to this barbaric act, whilst also revealing how unpleasant and troubled his own life is.

Although Radcliffe is on stage for almost the entire running time of the play, Richard Griffiths has the biggest role as the psychiatrist, and I was pleasantly surprised by his performance. Previous performances have indicated that the actor is a graudate of what I call the 'Judy Dench school of acting' - lauded and acclaimed everywhere as a 'national treasure' and 'great acting talent', but seemingly only ever playing the same character (themselves!) no matter what they appear in.

In Equus' awkward first half it's Griffiths' relaxed, naturalistic delivery that makes the play work, not least because Radcliffe's part requires that he mainly play the role of 'I'm being shouty, probably because I can't really act' mode throughout. It's hard to work out if this is just the result of a script and dialogue that demand a rather one-note performance, or genuine proof that Radcliffe really CAN'T act. Part of the problem may be down to the fact that Griffiths performance, along with that of Jenny Agutter (who, if memory serves me right, also appeared in the original film, although as a different character) are so natural and relaxed that it's hard to see Radcliffe's performance, at least initially, as being anything that is above that required for the average amateur school play (and we all know how bad those can be!)

Fortunately the actor gets a chance to really show his mettle in the second half, where his part (no, not those parts!) demands more in terms of raw emotion and vulnerability. Radcliffe tackles the much-publicised, and potentially difficult and embarrassing, naked scenes fearlessly and, more importantly, with such acting talent that one is totally drawn into the action and the emotion of what's happening on stage, rather than noticing that someone's running around the stage stark bollock naked for several minutes.

The set design, whilst minimal, is excellent, and I particularly liked the horses - tall humans with metallic wire high-heel shoes and elaborate metallic masks. I also thought the play was well structured and beautifully written, in a form that's far more mainstream than I remember the film being.

All-in-all I feel lucky to have seen it and would recommend it to anyone interested in good theatre who might be prevaricating about whether or not to give it a try. However I suspect the 'fame' factor of the play's young male lead means that decent tickets are hard to come by (the theatre is best described as 'intimate', with a limited number of seats).

The subject matter may appear odd, but the story here is not so much about weird intimacy with horses, so much as it is about two human beings, both struggling to find happiness in life. 'Kill the passion, and you kill the person' is the psychiatrist's closing lament, faced with the difficult decision of 'curing' the boy who's become his patient, but at the cost of leaving him to a life as unsatisfying and passion-free as his own has been.


Miss Deadline said...

Ahem, I was joking with the nice arse comment! Even though, on reflection he did have a well toned posterior....

Ian said...

Hah! So YOU say! ;-)

Would that "reflection" you're talking about be the one from the glass lenses in the binoculars that the pervs with the heavy breathing sat next to you were using?

David Weeks said...

Glad the play still holds up after all these years.
It was controversial at the time when I saw Dai Bradley and Colin Blakely playing the leads. Despite some of the press objecting to pseudo-psychology I thought it was great piece of theatre. Glad to see that the metallic horse design has survived into this revival.