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Last Updated: Wednesday, 28 February 2007, 08:56 GMT
Radcliffe makes compelling debut
By Neil Smith
Entertainment reporter, BBC News

Daniel Radcliffe in Equus
Equus deals with controversial themes of sexuality
A star-studded audience saw Harry Potter actor Daniel Radcliffe make his full West End debut in Equus.

Christian Slater, Bob Geldof and Richard E Grant were just a few of the luminaries who braved the paparazzi outside London's Gielgud Theatre.

Miranda Richardson, Stephen Fry and Helena Bonham Carter - performers with close ties to the Harry Potter phenomenon - were also in attendance.

For all the celebrity talent in the stalls, however, there was only one focus of attention once the lights went down.

The controversial nature of Peter Shaffer's 1973 play, combined with reports of Radcliffe's on-stage nudity, has already made this the hottest ticket in town.

To concentrate on the sensational aspects of Thea Sharrock's production, however, would be a disservice to its star's accomplished and thoroughly committed performance.

Boasting a well-toned physique and a compelling stage presence, Radcliffe quickly distances himself from his boy wizard alter-ego.

Minimal experience

Indeed, the overriding impression is of a gifted young actor casting off the shackles of a restrictive screen persona.

Daniel Radcliffe and Joanna Christie in Equus
Radcliffe and Joanna Christie leave little to the imagination
True, he is perhaps too composed to be wholly credible as Alan Strang, the disturbed stable boy sectioned for blinding six horses.

Nor do his polished vowels befit a character who, according to Shaffer's text, is both ill-educated and semi-literate.

With a maturity and intensity that belie his 17 years, though, the teenage heart-throb compellingly conveys the angst and trauma of a youth in crisis.

And as Shaffer pieces together the sorry history that led him to commit such an inexplicable act of violence, Radcliffe ensures he retains both our sympathy and our compassion.

Looking visibly drained and shaken as he took his bows, Tuesday's opening night clearly took its toll on an actor with minimal theatrical experience.

Then again, he had just been required to strip naked for a sex scene with co-star Joanna Christie that leaves little to the imagination.

With two rows of audience members seated directly behind the actors on stage, there is nowhere to hide.

It would be no slight on their exertions, though, to lavish equal praise on Richard Griffiths for his work as the conflicted therapist who guides Strang through his psychological minefield.

Tortured mind

In a role created on stage by Alec McCowen and played on film by Richard Burton, Griffiths is a portrait of avuncular concern tempered by nagging self-doubt.

Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths in Equus
Richard Griffiths' performance has also been praised
It is a dichotomy that mirrors the play's ambivalent attitude towards psychiatry when it comes to explaining the workings of a tortured mind.

Animal lovers will be relieved to know Equus - the Latin word for horse - has actors wearing metal headgear standing in for actual livestock.

In lesser hands such a device might seem incongruous, but Sharrock makes it feel entirely natural.

This is no mean feat in a drama that presents a lurid cocktail of sexual repression, religious obsession and stylised animal cruelty.

But the real triumph is Radcliffe's for winning his thespian spurs in one of the most demanding roles an actor his age could tackle.

Compared to the emotional exposure the part entails, his well-publicised disrobing seems almost incidental.

Harry Potter fans, though, have one more shock in store should they choose to see their hero in his current guise.

More shocking than wounding horses and having sex? Perhaps. Shortly after the interval, Daniel smokes a cigarette.

Equus continues at the Gielgud Theatre in central London.

Daniel Radcliffe on his West End stage debut

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