Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe upset some parents of Potter fans by taking part in a stage performance of Peter Shaffer’s play Equus at London’s Gielgud Theatre. Publicity photos for the play show Radcliffe, 17, topless and buffed. He plays Strang, a troubled stablehand who one night blinds six horses with a hoofpick. The publicity shots were taken between filming of the fifth and sixth Harry Potter movies.
Equus, by Peter Shaffer, is the story of Dysart, a psychiatrist, who attempts to help a young man, Strang, who has an odd fascination with horses. As Dysart exposes the truths behind the boy’s demons, he finds himself face-to-face with his own.
Shaffer wrote Equus after hearing of a crime in which a teenage boy mutilated some horses. He play portrays what might have caused the crime. Randy Harrison, who starred in the play in 2005, described Equus as “one of the most significant English-language plays of the past 30 years. Anybody who hasn’t seen it or read it needs to, if they care at all about theater or literature.”
Equus first opened at the National Theatre in 1973, before transferring to the West End and Broadway for record-breaking runs. It won the 1975 Tony Award for Best Play, and in 1977 was made into a film starring Richard Burton as Dysart and Peter Firth (then 24) as Strang. Firth had played Strang on Broadway and in London, winning a 1975 Theatre World Award. The male nudity in the film was notable and controversial, but the film is far more important for its powerful performances and Schaffer’s challenging drama. It received a number nominations and awards, but some argue that the play was not well transferred to film. Here Firth is rehearsing the Strang role for the theatre production of Equus.
Daniel Radcliffe could easily have chosen some post-Potter pap for the next step in his career. Instead, he is to be applauded for taking on such a challenging role for his West End stage debut. As he said to The Independent “I couldn’t do it with my pants on. That would be rubbish.” Err . . . quite.