Sliding in an instant from in-depth philosophical musing one moment to total nudity the next, Equus is far from an easy choice for training, undergraduate actors, making the BSA’s recent production at the Birmingham Hippodrome’s Patrick Centre all the more impressive.
With professional-standard acting ability all round, the cast tackled the play’s difficult and disturbing themes with ease, gauging the tone just right and providing their characters with real psychological depth. From the beginning, the lead actors were thoroughly compelling: Harry Russell maintained a commanding presence as Dysart throughout, while Jack Whitehurst effortlessly conveyed the complex and turbulent inner life of the troubled Alan Strang.
The supporting cast, too, were excellent, with Gareth Adams and Vivian Glaskin convincingly downtrodden and desperate as Alan’s pitiable parents. Grace Bussey, meanwhile, underwent a complete transformation between her two roles as Jill Mason and the Nurse. Had the play allowed for it, it would have been great to see more from this actress, but in spite of her characters’ limitations, her talent nevertheless shone through. As Nugget and the Horseman on the beach, Mikael Froman’s energy was utterly tireless, and with the help of some beautifully made horse-head props, reminiscent of the skeleton-like structures used in The National Theatre’s War Horse, the rest of the cast joined him to create an amazingly effective herd of horses, capturing the creatures’ subtle movements and raw animal pain.
Though minimal, the set was well designed, making the best possible use of the space available which became, at various points, hospital, home, stable, beach, cinema and bus stop. Even when not performing, the full cast generally remained on stage, something which could easily have become distracting had it not been so well done.
Overall, the production demonstrated a great deal of promise, ability and professionalism from its young actors, who, based on this, should be proud of their achievements and confident about their future careers.