Nearly 40 years old now, Equus (at Greenwich Theatre until 30 June and on tour) shows no signs of opting for the pipe and slippers, continuing to shock audiences with the intensity of its approach to some of the biggest themes theatre can tackle. Like me, many will have distant memories of the film or even of earlier productions, but it's still a jolt to be in the company of Alan Strang for two hours.
Strang (played with exactly the right mix of arrogance and vulnerability by Matthew Pattimore) has blinded six horses in an apparently unprovoked attack and is committed to the care of psychiatrist, Dr Martin Dysart (Malcolm James), a man with problems of his own. Slowly, trust builds between the two men and the story of the night emerges in flashbacks that peel layer after layer from Alan's home life of apparent middle-class respectability. A teenage life absent the usual vices of sex and drugs and rock'n'roll had set Alan on the path to such appalling violence.
With all the actors on stage at all times, sitting around a set that echoes the Greek temples that provide Dr Dysart with his escape from a life of tedious consulting, tedious sex and tedious teenagers, Michael Cabot's direction traps the two men in a ring that mirrors their psychological prisons. Towering above them, symbols of an animalistic freedom denied the two men, are six horses' heads, gilded and majestic, like those that pulled the chariots in Ben Hur. From time to time, the actors don the heads and become the horses: snorting; farting; rearing - shackled by bit and rein, but with spirits unfettered.
Of course, Strang and Dysart are the same man - fiercely intelligent, non-conformist and addicted to greater unearthly powers - the only differences being the objects of their veneration and their means to deal with its overpowering grip on their lives. Peter Shaffer's play is still relevant today in a world where therapy and counselling are far more commonplace than in 1973, because the Strang / Dysart man is an everyman, whether we like it or not. This production, at times exhausting to watch, carries that message through a drama that never lets up, delivered by a committed and talented cast.