The Bench are quickly becoming renowned for their high standard of work, having recently celebrated multiple wins at The Totton Drama Festival with 'Login Error', and their latest instalment 'Equus' is certainly another to add to their string of hits.
Set in 1979, the piece tells the story of 17 year old Alan Strang, who after blinding 6 horses is committed to a psychiatric hospital. There he meets weary but experienced Dr Martin Dysart, and together they dissect the psyche of Alan, with dramatic results.
Director Alan Ward and his team are ticking all the boxes in this production. Phil Hanley's impressive use of lighting is of particularly note here, the space is used to great effect and the effects of this are heightened by how well the space is segmented and sectioned off. The intense implement of strobe lighting, though potentially overused, does what it needs to, and leaves you feeling disorientated. The sound, also designed by Hanley is perhaps used too infrequently to get the most potential, but when done so, helps set the scene wonderfully, the opening of both acts is particularly eerie.
Jules Simmons has done an impressive job with her creation of the horses, using simple yet effective head pieces, and Ward has matched this beautifully through Craig Parker, Sally Hartley and Ceri Tipler's physical portrayal of the horses. It was nice to see a drawn back physical approach that felt more ethereal, giving the sense that each horse was more of a deep metaphorical representation of Alan's mind.
The text in this play is simply stunning, and is surely a gift to any actor that undertakes it. Though not everyone managed to deliver with as much skill as others, some were particular standouts. Leigh Cunningham as flirty Jill, once again lends her smokey tones and shows us, with complete ease, how pacing and rhythm is really done. Megan Green as mother Dora managed to squeeze every dramatic drop out of her lines, the subsequent scenes with son Alan were utterly believable, and her heartbreaking rant to Dr Dysart was a particular standout. Playing Dr Martin Dysart was David Penrose, and really it's his grasp of the text which is the highlight of this show. Having taken the bulk of the story, narrating and guiding us from beginning to end, Penrose manages to deliver his lines with almost a poetic quality.
Storming his way through however is the highly abled Jeff Bone as our show's focus, Alan. If the facial expressions alone aren't enough to convince you, then Bone's dynamic approach to his lines will captivate you. The role itself is notorious for its full frontal nudity and it takes a brave actor to do this, and therefore Bone must be applauded. This is local theatre at its very best, and is nothing less than a brutal attack on the senses, which is just as it should be.