Former Emmerdale actor Ethan Kai is starring in Equus at the Cambridge Arts Theatre
Taking the lead role in Peter Shaffer’s famously exposing play Equus is not for the faint hearted.
So when former Emmerdale regular Ethan Kai discovered he had won the part of disturbed stablehand Alan Strang, which requires full nudity on stage, he was a little apprehensive.
Ethan, who is appearing this week in the play at the Cambridge Arts Theatre said: “Of course I knew going into the audition what it was about because Daniel Radcliffe had famously done it and it was a play in which he got naked, so I knew what to expect and, I’m not going to lie, I was quite nervous.
“When I got offered the part I was like, ‘OK, this is quite real now,’ and there was an element of fear or nervousness, but the fact that it scared me made me want to do it more. I very much wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone and go to places I haven't been before, to push myself to develop as an actor and, I guess, as a human being as well.”
Ethan grew up in Leeds and is best known for playing Kasim Sabet in Emmerdale, who was left unconscious after a car crash and went on to have a relationship with Finn Barton. In Equus, his first major stage role, he plays 17-year-old Alan Strang whose pathological fascination with horses and religious fervour leads him to blind six of them in a stable.
In a psychiatric unit, Alan is analysed by Dr. Martin Dysart, who tries to discover the motive behind the boy’s violent act. But as Dysart delves into Alan’s world of twisted spirituality, passion and sexuality - a product of the boy’s intense religious upbringing - he begins to question his own sanity and motivations in a world driven by consumerism.
Although the nude scene is only a small part of the play, it is the scene for which the show is most famous. Ethan said: “When we got into week three or four of rehearsals and it got to the point where we were going to have to disrobe, the fear came back a bit again. The last thing I wanted to do was be in the scene and have these worries in my head.
“The first rehearsal where I had to take my clothes off was the worst. I was like, oh there it is. OK that’s my willy, let’s all move on now. After I did it for the first time in rehearsal it was fine. If you can do it for one audience then you can do it for any audience.
“Ultimately it's a very minute part of what is a grand and epic story and production.”
Award-winning director Ned Bennett has brought this psychological thriller back to the stage in a production that has also gained many five star reviews. The play was written in 1973, inspired by a true story told to playwright Peter Shaffer on a journey through Suffolk.
“From a very young age, Alan has had a very passionate and intense fascination with horses,” says Ethan.
“He is incredibly creative; he’s a very colourful and beautiful soul, even though it may be hidden underneath this sort of facade of hardness and indifference, I guess because he has had to keep under wraps and secret for a long time. As a result he is an incredibly isolated person. There’s a line where Dysart sums him up: ‘He is a modern citizen for whom society doesn't exist,’ which I think captures him pretty perfectly.”
The play leaves audiences to make up their own mind about the cause of Alan’s behaviour and there has been more than one interpretation of the dramatic ending.
“The thing I love about this play is that it is left open,” says Ethan. “ I have my own ideas as to why it was done and when I talked to Ned (Bennett) we discussed how it is very open ended. They don’t spoon feed you the answers to why he is this way.
“Some people have have taken away from the show that is that it is a metaphor for a homosexual relationahip, or a young man coming to terms with his homosexuality. Personally, that is not how I felt when I first read ,t but with having humans play the horses with no costumes or masks, it’s just actors creating the essence of the horse, I can see why some people might come away thinking that, and that is great. It is absolutely one way that the story can be interpreted.”
Ethan admits that the play may not be comfortable viewing for everyone and praises director Ned Bennett’s vision.
“I feel Ned has done an amazing job of bringing it into the contemporary and the present, even though it was written in 1973.
“There’s elements of overwhelming the audience with lighting and with disturbing images her very much didn’t want to let people off the hook with this production.”
Equus also stars Robert Fitch, Keith Gilmore, Syreeta Kumar, Norah Lopez Holden, Ruth Lass, Ira Mandela Siobhan and Zubin Varla.
Equus is at Cambridge Arts Theatre until Saturday, March 30. Tickets from £20. Box office: 01223 503333 or visit cambridgeartstheatre.com.