A play about a stablehand who mutilates horses was never going to appeal to all, but “Harry Potter” star Daniel Radcliffe’s assured performance in Peter Shaffer’s “Equus” pleased London critics.
Some theater writers expressed reservations about Shaffer’s play, first staged in London’s West End in 1973, but almost all were impressed by the boy wizard’s breakout performance.
Charles Spencer, writing in The Daily Telegraph, said although “Equus” was full of “phoney baloney” and “pseudo-profundity,” Radcliffe had shown he was more than just a middling movie wizard. “(He) brilliantly succeeds in throwing off the mantle of Harry Potter, announcing himself as a thrilling stage actor of unexpected range and depth,” Spencer said.
The new production co-stars Richard Griffiths — a Tony Award winner last year for “The History Boys” who also played Harry’s dastardly Uncle Vernon in the “Potter” movies — as a psychiatrist who interviews the troubled youth.
The Times’ Benedict Nightingale said there should have been only two questions on the audience’s mind: “Is the boy wizard enough of a wizard to merit a place on stage beside Richard Griffiths? And how does Peter Shaffer’s play stand up 34 years after its premiere?”
He said that while Radcliffe had proven himself on the stage, “The second question is that, though gripping and theatrically skillful, ‘Equus’ is at the root dated, pretentious, and even a bit pernicious.”
The sentiment was echoed by Michael Billington, who wrote in The Guardian that the play romanticized pain. But he agreed “Equus” showed Radcliffe was “no flash in the magic pan.”
“Forget all the prurient press speculation about Harry Potter’s private parts,” he said, referring to a scene at the end where Radcliffe is nude. “The revelation in this revival is that Daniel Radcliffe really can act.”