London: Young British actor Daniel Radcliffe won wide praise from critics on 28 February for shedding not only his alter ego Harry Potter but his clothes as he took the lead role in the play “Equus”.
Radcliffe plays Alan Strang, a disturbed teenager fixated on horses who develops an intense relationship with his psychiatrist, played by Richard Griffiths.
Although Griffiths plays Harry’s uncle Vernon Dursley in Potter films, the similiarities between “Equus” and Radcliffe’s most famous role end there— Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play is among the most controversial in modern theatre.
In the tabloid newspapers, there was predictable focus on the nudity in the play while critics in the “quality” press concentrated on the 17-year-old’s acting abilities.
“Buff and tough” said the Daily Mirror, remarking how Radcliffe “drew hundreds of excitable young fans keen to see him in the flesh” but also “wowed critics and stars who turned out for this dark, erotic drama”.
The Daily Mail’s man at the opening night on 27 February at the Gielgud Theatre in central London said that despite the hype, “there was no great moment of voyeuristic titillation”.
“What was striking, instead, was the emergence of a young Daniel Radcliffe in the artistic raw, tested as an actor and found equal to a stretching role,” he added.
Thirty-something women who may have been salivating beforehand were “surely left poleaxed by a great drama done well”, he wrote, adding: “He has put Harry Potter tidily behind him — should he so desire.”
For The Times, “Radcliffe proves an assured actor and makes a perfectly able equimaniac. He can do aggression and pain, and, oddly, is lacking only in the sense of magic and wonder the part demands.”
The newspaper had one criticism, assessing that Radcliffe fell short of showing the central character’s “exhilaration bordering on religious ecstasy” in the company and secret riding of horses.“Yet I can’t wholly regret his failure, because it makes an enjoyable play just a bit less morally meretricious,” the Times critic added.The Guardian gave the play four out of five stars.
“Forget all the prurient press speculation about Harry Potter’s private parts,” it said.“The revelation of this revival is that Daniel Radcliffe really can act, proving that his screen appearances as J.K. Rowling’s boy-hero are no flash in the magic pan.”
The Daily Telegraph — which put a photograph of Radcliffe being mobbed by photographers outside the theatre on its front page— agreed.
“Daniel Radcliffe brilliantly succeeds in throwing off the mantle of Harry Potter, announcing himself as a thrilling stage actor of unexpected range and depth,” its critic said.
Radcliffe— whose on-stage nudity is said in certain sections of the media to have vexed Warner Brothers, the film company behind the Harry Potter franchise— has starred in all four movie versions of the books.
The fifth— “Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix”— is due out on July 13 this year, just over a week before Rowling publishes the seventh and last book in the series, “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows”.