Who doesn’t love the Harry Potter franchise? Who doesn’t love Daniel Radcliffe? He is recognized worldwide for his stellar role in the series, one coveted by many actors of similar ilk. He embodies his character fully. But did you know that he is also known as a fine stage actor, having played a part in Equus on the London stage in the famed West End. Critics and fans were ebullient about his raw and enraptured performance. This first stage role was in 2007 at the Gielgud Theater. He enjoyed the direction of Thea Sherrock which brought him to major recognition when he was named as the outstanding actor in a play as acknowledged by the Dramatic Desk Award.
This award-winning play by Peter Schaffer written in 1973 has made the rounds of theaters worldwide, having been revived numerous times, including the West End appearance by Radcliffe. It is a gripping highly dramatic tale of a young man obsessed with horses that merits psychiatric help. It comes in the form of Dr. Martin Dysart who hopes to uncover the reason the boy, Alan Strang, has blinded six horses in a small rural town. The two are the real focal points of the production, and as the plot unfolds, so do the characters.
It is like a detective story in which the psychiatrist tries to uncover the reason for the heinous act. In the process, the characters come to know themselves and their role in life. There is the theme of ritual sacrifice and religious fanaticism. Neither role is easy and Radcliffe is captivating as the boy who has constructed an odd and personal mythology around horses with the godhead he calls “Equus.”
There is plenty of social commentary and sexual innuendo in the plot that is full and rich in implications. Radcliffe is the penultimate troubled youth who has to come to terms with his violent act. By playing games and with consistent questioning, the boy’s life is laid bare. Some of it is through dreams and hypnosis and some by association with the Bible, his exposure to which occurred through his mother throughout his youth. Alan’s sexual attraction to horses is a powerful dramatic device.
Radcliffe is emotionally exposed, but also physically in a scene in which he rides Equus unattired. How does an actor prepare for such a moment? You have to be tough enough to go this route. There is no hiding out. While Radcliffe admitted to having his bottom waxed for the show, he did not take whip out the body hair trimmer before taking his clothes off and taking to the stage.
The barebacked horse and naked rider become one fused entity in this critical scene. Alan is a kind of king facing his mental enemies. The stable is also a key element in the play and no mere background. This is all the more true in the blinding scene where the boy commits his act of protection. He doesn’t want the horses to witness any more of a soul-wrenching attempt at a sexual act.
Radcliffe has the guts to be unclothed in much of the play. Fortunately, he looks good being young and somewhat virile. Older actors do not always fare well when they take their garb off for all to see. It is a dramatic device to appear naked that is shocking enough, and leaves the character vulnerable and exposed. You get based the body to delve into the deeper soul. It is still uncommon in the theater, but when it works, it is gripping and emotional.
Alan is an impressionable youth to be sure. He has his manias and obsessions that come from years back. His life has not been easy, hence the odd sexual and religious commitments. Everyone is a product of their past and their parents’ inadvertent actions. This boy’s life took a unique turn. The culminating act with Jill in the staples is prophetic and telling. Alan’s character has been blunted and he turns to equine beings for redemption.
There are few plays this “heavy” or intense. It is brilliant dialogue and exceptional staging. Radcliffe is up to the challenge and his performance rivals the lad in the film. It is a memorable experience of the highest theatrical caliber. The world famous Radcliffe had no difficulty assuming the role and performing it as originally planned. He claimed that he did not want to see the old film so he could be true to the original writing and conception. He entered into a fine tradition and achieved remarkable results.