The Equus of Generation Potter

Peter Shaffer: Equus

I am one of those that consider Equus as a legendary performance of Pesti Színház, starring László Gálffi and Iván Darvas. Thus, I always thought staging this performance anew is a daring task. Lately, several theatres attempted to do so; Thalia in Košice, Slovakia, Magyar Társulat (Hungarian Troupe) in Subotica, Serbia and the Csokonai Theatre in Debrecen all played the piece and the list goes on, I suspect. What makes today's theatre managements interested in a past-its-prime play by a dramatist said to be an author of bestsellers? Peter Schaffer's piece, originally debuting in London's Old Vic in 1973, played by the thousands at Broadway, must have been a big hit in the eighties at Pesti Színház. What's in it 30 years after the success? The play by the former professor of contemporary theatre studies at Oxford University, as well as Golden Globe and Oscar prize winning Sir Schaffer (1926) was also newly staged in the UK. Its 2007 performance was starred (at times naked) by Daniel Radcliffe mostly known to the Hungarian audience for his leading role in the Harry Potter movies.



The performance by the National Theatre of Győr was directed by Frigyes Funtek (1958) who, after a successful start to his acting career, moved to France, lived in Paris and Cannes, held courses at the Academy of Dramatic Art in Udine, Italy and has been the art director of the Győr theatre's prose department since 2008. The play was newly translated by contemporary dramatist Kornél Hamvai. Funtek seemed to direct the play in good spirit – with splendid results. Equus by the Győr theatre is a magnificent performance which although not flawless, captures the audience and is able to revive the almost 40-year-old piece. Moreover, despite the fact that the play is performed at the theatre's Kisfaludy hall, it seems, it will better the relationship between the theatre and its audience.



Much is said of the piece by the stage itself which is an open cube facing the audience with one of its edges, and its back sides are covered by white curtains. The shining white space put inside the black surroundings of the theatre foreshadows the simplicity, intellectual fullness and visual effect machanism of the performance. You're not surprised when the first scene features projected images on the white back walls, that become one of the visual media of the unstageable key figures of Equus, namely the horses. Still in this scene, two half-naked men appear who turn out to be horse and rider. After a dance-like series of movements the rider seems to be crucified upside down – hanging from the back of the hulky actor in the role of the horse, of course. The white space portrays the psychiatrist's office where sins, passions and mental disorders come from the darkness of the subconscious that is the back stage to the shining consciousness and thus get cured, as well as the stables where the uncontrollable basic instincts can surface.



Anothar important element of this pure and imaginative, passionate and ironic play is the visual representation of horses. The effects trapping the boy are acted out by dancers chosen for the occasion, seeming to be well prepared and talented. Funtek's French wife, dancer Monet Robier created the choreography, offering a new way of expression to the production. The dance representing the movements of horses is very effective. For instance, one of the main scenes where the animals' eyes are pierced, is absolutely breathtaking with an articulate, uncontrollable presentation. Also, in Equus' role, Ottó Demcsák's outstanding performance cannot go unnoticed both as an actor and a dancer.



The protagonist of Funtek's production is the intelligent psychiatrist, who although disillusioned, still fights for the existence of passion in life to his last breath. Zoltán Rátóti plays the role in an experienced, sympathetic way. Still, he is not the one in the spotlight but Csaba Fándly, playing the boy with mental disorders. He is unbelievably talented and he obviously spends great amounts of energy on this absolutely fitting role. His character wins his strife with the psychiatrist because the actor manages to form a clean, innocent figure, who is the victim of his parents' catastrophic methods of upbringing and an age poisoned by the agression and prudishness of television. He even wakes fatherly feelings in the psychiatrist who, with his broken marriage, suppressed sexuality and intellectual life choking in everyday dullness, in a way, becomes the boy's emotional and the play's cultural target.



It is interesting and imaginable to see the representation of the boy's parents personifying a catalogue of lower middle-class errors. The old, devoted social democrat played by András Török, coupled with Mária Varga's character of the strictly religious teacher are two worlds that live in the same space but are surrounded by walls, who although sincerely love their son but in their own ways, they both contributed to his mental collapse (which they are deeply ashamed of), in that they could not love each other phisically in a free, natural way. As opposed to the parents the female characters set a good example in the play. The judge played by Erika Pápai and the girl played by Éva Bátyai show the sensitivity of a woman's soul, the curing and taming aptitude and the both loving and motherly nature.



The adult society controlled by competition and authority is built on hypocrisy and suppression, it tries to exile all passion from life, and at the same time it's insensitive to the physical and mental demands of the next generation. Although this message is sent somewhat ideologically in Shaffer's play, the serious and captivating performance still manages to regenerate it. This is how it is able to address today's Hungarian audience whose members face the failure of the political change-over every day. They are those who can realise their own responsibilites through the example set by the boy, his parents and the psychiatrist. They, the first generation of consumer society's venture capitalism, the ones born around the time of the change, the members of the Harry Potter generation can be the clear victims of the adult world's agressive and autistic inside debates.


Peter Shaffer: Equus, National Theatre, Győr

Translation: Kornél Hamvai

Director: Frigyes Funtek

Starring: Zoltán Rátóti, Csaba Fándly, András Török, Mária Varga, Erika Pápai, Éva

Bátyai, Miklós Rázga, Ákos Fehér, Judit Rádler, Ottó Demcsák Horses: Levente Lukács, Szilárd Szepsi, Attila Bokor, Bettina Pélyi, Boglárka Varga

Set, costume: György Csík

Choreography: Monet Robier

Assistant choreographer: Eliezer Dibritto

Film: Sándor Kiss

Music: Nikolas Timon

Prompter: Ottilia Fenesi

Stage manager, assistant director: Eszter Bedi

Debut: 01.22.2011.