Instead, Equus was an evening’s theatre dominated by a riveting and outstanding performance by Rohan Ponniah’s Martin Dysart, supported to the hilt by Hiran Abeysekera’s Alan Strang.
The British School’s environs were buzzing with the expectant theatre crowd when we entered the premises and I couldn’t help but get that ‘maybe something special is on the cards’ vibe as we took our seats. The theatre was packed, and when the lights went off and as the first bars of the opening music began, the vibe intensified.
I’m not about to get into the plot and the history of this Peter Shaffer classic, as it has been rehashed enough for those of us who are familiar with it to balk at repetition. And for those of us who are not, much information is available in abundance on the net. Suffice it to say that the play revolves around the relationship between a ‘disturbed’ teenager and a psychiatrist whose lot it is to ‘treat’ him. The supporting cast consists of the boy’s parents, the magistrate who refers the boy to the psychiatrist, a young girl that seduces the boy, a nurse, the stable owner and six horses.
It is difficult for me to put into words the impact that Rohan Ponniah made on me from the time he uttered his opening lines and the fact that he sustained this impact throughout in this extremely demanding role was, to me, the hallmark of a seasoned professional actor par excellence. Never mind that his most recent foray in local theatre was his role in another Steve de la Zilwa production – Anna Weiss – nearly ten years ago!
Hiran Abeysekera was a revelation and, unexpected as it was, personified the essence of the character he played – a confused, tortured soul, whose instinctive action caused horror and shock – not only to society in general and to his parents in particular, but to his psyche as well. So much so that the action and events leading to it were successfully blocked from re-entering his consciousness. And this was effectively conveyed in his exchanges with Dysart. Alan’s was another demanding role played with a controlled consistency that conveyed the turmoil within that gradually subsides as the sessions with Dysart progress and will establish this young actor as a compelling force in local theatre.
Tracy Holsinger was the other actor that grabbed attention with her ‘traumatised mother’ role of Dora Strang, played with subtlety and with just the right emphasis at just the right moments.
One of the smaller roles that impressed me was that of the Nurse, played by Janice de Zoysa, whose debut performance promises much in the realm of future local English Theatre and whose Nurse had just the right amount of stern ‘no nonsense’ air about her to seal her characterization of the part.
The other was Subha Wijesiriwardena’s Jill Mason, whose coy, yet persuasive manner provided the impetus for Alan’s final act of unbridled violence.
The production itself was right on. The unostentatious, yet entirely functional set, effective lighting, appropriate music and sound effects, all combined to add to the total effect. Unfortunately, the night we were there, there was a glitch in the lighting at the end of the ‘blue film’ scene, where the badly timed ‘blackout’ left the stage hands moving stuff off the stage and left the actors hurriedly taking their places, all exposed to the light. Unfortunate, but inexcusable – and did take away from an otherwise nearly flawless production on the night.
Steve de la Zilwa’s direction of this difficult exercise is a compliment to his abilities in getting together an ensemble that is able to communicate his vision and interpret the parts accordingly. That aspect, combined with his aesthetic sensibilities made for a production that, with some amount of extra work, will stand on its merit in just about any venue anywhere.
Having seen the original local production of Equus nearly thirty years ago, it is virtually impossible not to compare the two. However, memories fade and much of what I saw then has effectively dimmed with time. But what I do remember vividly is that the horses in general, and their movements in particular, were far more effective than the ones in this production and where Richard de Zoysa’s Nugget very nearly stole the show.
A standing ovation at the end of the play bore ample testimony to the appreciation of the audience and left me hoping like hell that these guys will get their shit together and not wait for another ten years to provide us folk with more memorable evenings of Theatre that, like this one, will not easily fade with time.
If you haven’t seen this production and are interested in quality theatre, don’t walk – run, for tickets are nearly sold out.