There was no better way for National Academy of Performing Arts (Napa) to conclude its Performing Arts Festival than with its sixth and final production “Equus”. The three-hour-long play set itself apart with its unique style of presentation and flawless execution. Directed by Sunil Shankar and translated into Urdu by both Shankar and Nazarul Hassan, “Equus” is one of the most brilliant plays to be produced in modern day Pakistani theatre.
As hard as one tries, it’s difficult to put the essence of the play in words. On the surface level, it’s a story about a 17-year-old boy Alan Strang, played by Ishtiaq Rasool, who ends up blinding six horses in a stable where he used to work.
However, the different layers of depth are revealed in Strang’s treatment by a psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Nazarul Hassan). It’s during these conversations between the patient and the psychiatrist that religious and philosophical arguments are touched upon. With philosophical subjects like existentialist dilemmas to religious topics like the Holy Trinity, the play forces the audience to think about their belief in God.
Although the credit of creating such a powerful dialectic goes to the original writer of the play Peter Shaffer, but had it not been for the director’s bold initiative, these controversial questions could never have been posed in front of a conservative Pakistani audience. Moreover, these questions were not concealed or hidden in anyway; they were delivered bluntly and in Urdu.
One of these instances was when Strang dropped all his clothes until he stood in his boxers only and approached Jill Mason (Marium). Mason, who was his co-worker at the stable, also took off her shirt leaving the audience in shock and disarray. However, the beauty of these scenes was that they were not provocative or vulgar.
Although “Equus” ran for three hours, time passed by much too quickly. The audience was so riveted that they could’ve easily done without any interval in between.
The performance which blew the audience’s mind was that of Hassan’s, who played the difficult role of Drysart, a paedophiliac therapist with apparent ease. He is one of the most talented, yet underrated, actors from Napa.
Hassan’s ability to pull off difficult roles is best demonstrated by one of his earlier performances in “Othello” where he played the character of Yago.
He played Drysart’s character so perfectly that the audience almost felt like the character’s psychological dilemmas were their own; one even felt like giving answers to his probing questions.
Rasool is a youngster with immense talent. Still a student with many working years ahead of him, he managed to pull off some disturbing characters with sophistication and apparent ease.
Akbar Islam, who played the roles of Harry Dalton and Frank Strang was equally impressive. However, Joshinder Chaggar (Dora Strang) stole the show with her monologue. Although Marium, who played Jill Mason, came in for a short while, but dominated Strang’s character with her movement and dialogue delivery.
Three cheers for the horses
A special mention should be given to Ahmed, Jameel, Maqbool, Masood, Wajhdhan and Zubair who played the horses for three hours nonstop. Their characters required agility, resilience and above all bundles of energy and it seemed like they had all of them in place.
With minimal resources, Sunil Shankar has pulled off something unimaginable in Pakistan. Napa should definitely consider staging this play again and even taking it to an international festival as it presents a refined and new look of Pakistani theatre.
Published in The Express Tribune, March 13th, 2012.