By: Peter Shaffer
Directed by: Thea Sharrock
Venue: Gielgud Theatre
Date: Wednesday 11th April 2007
I was keen to see this play, as I hadn’t seen it before, and it’s often talked about as being really influential. Of course, the prospect of male nudity didn’t put me off at all.
The set was impressive. Designed by John Napier, who designed the original production at the Old Vic, it was very bare, but with some lovely touches, mainly the horses’ heads. These were formed from steel wire, making a head-shaped basket, with leather straps between some of the wires. Underneath was a cap for fitting the masks on to the actors’ heads. They were beautifully made, and hung round the walls of the set at the start. The centre was a large plinth, all black, with four black blocks set on it – these could be put on any side and moved around easily to create furniture as required. There were also six stable doors evenly spaced round the back and sides of the stage – these only became apparent later.
As well as the main house being packed, there were a couple of rows of seats up behind the stage, also full. On the whole, the audience were fine, despite having a younger average age than we usually see in a midweek matinee. I did have to ask one man to be quiet, as he seemed to think it was OK to carry on a conversation with the person next to him throughout the performance! There was extra loud applause at the end – some of it may have been down to the Harry Potter effect, but mostly it was well earned.
The story is relatively simple, though quite challenging. We gradually learn why a young man has blinded six horses at the stable where he worked. He’s developed a weird sexual attachment to horses, based on an early experience and fuelled by his mother’s insistent religiosity. When he nearly loses his cherry in the stable barn, he’s driven to this extreme act by his fear of what his horse-god has seen. I couldn’t help feeling that if the young lady (a questionable description, in this case) had only chosen somewhere else for his first night of passion, he might have turned out quite reasonably – her choice just happened to be the worst one possible for him.
I liked all the performances, although there wasn’t much for some of the minor characters to do. Richard Griffiths creates a tremendous sense of trustworthiness, and Daniel Radcliffe managed to get across his character’s strangeness very well. His mother and father were also good, especially Jonathan Cullen as the puritanical socialist who gets caught out visiting a porn cinema. The “horses” were also excellent, and the blinding scene, where torches are used for the horses’ eyes and extinguished as they’re gouged out, was both disturbing and beautiful.
It seems a worthy revival of an interesting play, and I was glad to have seen it. Although there had been some rewriting to bring the dialogue up-to-date, the overall feel of the piece was very modern anyway.
© 2007 Sheila Evans at ilovetheatre.me