Ned Bennett is an award-winning theatre director, who trained at the Royal Court, the National Theatre and LAMDA. He is the director of English Touring Theatre’s bold new production of Peter Shaffer’s critically-acclaimed classic, psychological thriller ‘Equus.’
In a co-production with Theatre Royal Stratford East, ‘Equus’ comes to The Lowry Tue 23 – Sat 27 April. We caught up with him to find out more about the play, including details on mucking out horses. Now that’s commitment.
What is Equus about?
Among other things, Equus is an incredibly sophisticated, visceral exploration of why people commit violent acts. We are told at the beginning, much like a true crime podcast, what has happened; a boy (Alan Strang) has stabbed six horse’s eyes out. And then it is as much about why he did it as it is about how this case affects the physiatrist (Martin Dysart).
Peter Shaffer said he didn’t think Equus had a genre. What genre do you think it is?
What’s special about Equus is that is goes between different genres. At one point you think you can pin it down as a ‘Why dunnit?’ thriller and the next moment it becomes this profound philosophical meditation on religion and society. The play examines how religious worship can be transferred into someone’s own idea of what a deity is to them.
The next minute it becomes a theatrical, expressive, mercurial beast. The script manages to go between something incredibly sophisticated and cerebral and something visceral, exciting and suspenseful.
Why did you want to this project?
I’m fascinated how the play explodes open our understanding of our primal drives. One of the central conceits of the play is that if someone exhibits what might be described as abnormal behaviour, are they to be listened to or controlled? To this end Dysart falls under the R.D. Laing school of anti-psychiatry; these questions were widely discussed when the play was first produced in the early 70s and feel still resonant now.
How did it feel to take on such a well-known play?
It was exciting to be able to draw on the rich history of how the production was put together originally and marry this with this our creative team’s personal response to the text. The original stage directions contain a mix of practical notes and poetic expressions of how the play was first articulated.
The play relies heavily on movement direction, what was it like collaborating with Shelley Maxwell? And how did the cast prepare for their roles as horses?
It was joyous collaborating with Shelley Maxwell, she has such a rich vocabulary of a wide range of movement and choreographic styles, coupled with an extraordinarily lateral imagination. The guiding principle for this work was investigating how Alan Strang’s relationship with Equus shifts with his endowment of Nugget the horse and Equus the God. We workshopped a multitude of versions of the horses and did the obligatory visit to some stables to observe, groom and muck out the horses.
Did any of your previous work prepare you for the process of directing Equus?
When I started out directing I worked part-time for as a Learning Support Assistant in Primary and Secondary Schools with young people with Emotional and Behavioural Difficulties. I drew on these experiences in trying to understand these characters.
What’s next after Equus?
I’m looking to create an outright horror play!
‘Equus’ is brought to The Lowry by English Touring Theatre. The show will run at the Salford venue Tue 23 – Sat 27 April 2019. For more information and tickets visit the website or call box office on 0843 208 6000.