The psychological thriller “Equus” starring Daniel Radcliffe has begun rehearsals for its Broadway opening. As part of the New York Times’ Times Talks, Radcliffe took time to discuss the production and his role. The play itself originated in London in 1973 and instantly became a hit. The original “Equus” won the 1975 Tony for Best Play and had record-breaking runs on Broadway and the West End. Of course, the show was recently revived in the West End in 2007 starring Radcliffe.
The story of the play is a dark one about a stable boy’s mutilation of his beloved horses. A psychiatrist attempts to discover what drove this teenager to these incomprehensible acts of violence. “Equus” is an adult play, with violence, nudity, and difficult themes. The recent London production was directed by Thea Sharrock and designed by John Napier. It did not mute the show’s dark tones, though there were changes to the original text. Radcliffe says he first read the play at age 14. In playing the disturbed central character, Radcliffe said he’s been taking a cue from the Stanley Kubrick film of A Clockwork Orange. “He’s got this Malcolm McDowell rage,” Radcliffe reflects on his character, “so when you show his human side, he’s more interesting. It’s about that stripping-away of who he is… the dehumanizing of him to make him acceptable in society…so he can be ‘normal.’”
Though the role of Alan Strang was a difficult one, and Mr. Radcliffe had modest previous stage experience, the play was a hit in London. The production and his performance received high praise: “Daniel Radcliffe brilliantly succeeds in throwing off the mantle of Harry Potter, announcing himself as a thrilling stage actor of unexpected range and depth.” (The Daily Telegraph.) The production received standing ovations in London, which Radcliffe said was a bit of surprise for him initially.
Radcliffe was the center of some controversy because his role required him to strip completely bare onstage. “Offended mothers were calling up and saying I shouldn’t be doing this, that they weren’t going to go see it,” remembers Radcliffe. “They’re treating it like it’s pornography, and it’s not. It’s only seven minutes at the end of the play.” His disturbed character is a far cry from the Harry Potter persona that made him famous. While people were worried that portraying this character might hurt his image as Harry Potter, he was actually supported by the producers of the movie franchise and Radcliffe will continue to play Harry in the next films. The Half-Blood Prince was scheduled for a fall release, but now that film won’t come out until the summer of ’09. Radcliffe said the date change wasn’t his fault, and he found out about the change 24 hours before everybody else. While there is speculation that the delay is due to Radcliffe’s Broadway schedule, it is more likely that the change is to give the studio a big summer hit movie.
Radcliffe’s Equus co-star Richard Griffiths ironically is also part of the Harry Potter film series. Griffiths has a noteworthy career spanning the last two decades. He recently appeared in the London Theatre production of ‘The History Boys” as well as in Broadway version. He won a Tony for his performance. In ‘Equus,’ he played ‘Martin Dysart,’ and was given high praise for his performance in London as well.
According to Michael Riedel of the New York Post, the production made history with the highest ever advance for a West End play. There is every indication that in its Broadway incarnation, this Equus could well break Broadway records too. Will it be the last appearance for Radcliffe on stage? Very likely not. Other productions he’s interested in doing include the role of Puck in William Shakespeare’s “A Midsummer Night’s Dream” and the Stephen Sondheim musical “Company.”