Harry Potter crosses the pond

From the headlines, you’d think that Daniel Radcliffe appearing in Equus was about to bring about some kind of imminent apocalypse. He takes his clothes off? How terrible. Cover the children’s eyes (and pass me the number of his trainer). Far too many parents seemed unable to differentiate between the boy wizard and the actor ? and between the books and the kind of material that’s suitable for their young Potter fans to be seeing. Equus is most certainly not.

Yes, he’s naked for some of the play. But it is integral to the plot. And teen fans shouldn’t be seeing something with such deep adult themes in any case. For the record, I saw the film version with Richard Burton and Peter Firth and haven’t been able to see the play since ? it is amazing and so emotionally affecting that it made a lasting impression.

In my opinion, it’s a brave move to make for the young actor. He could have just played it safe, doing nothing to disturb the profitable franchise. But what could he have done instead? Teen movies? Not very challenging. British comedies? Rupert Grint is carving himself a good niche there but we don’t have much of a track record in that field. Television? Judging by the recent crop of Jane Austen adaptations, it’s not a good route either. Appearing on Extras gave him edge and showed that he had a good sense of humour about himself and genuine appeal of his own.

Theatre? Well, what to do there? Small parts in bigger productions?

Respectable, but creatively not very fulfilling. There aren’t all that many lead roles for young actors (perhaps one of the reasons why the various casts of Alan Bennett’s The History Boys have made such an impression). Taking on Alan Strang in Equus was a gamble, but he’s triumphantly proved that not only can he act, but he can do it well.

And the timing couldn’t have been better. Not that anything in the Potter franchise needs any help, but book seven will appear in July (and yes, I’ll force myself to read it in one weekend and review it for you. That’s my excuse and I’m sticking to it) and the fifth film, The Order of the Phoenix, is out on July 13. This week, it was announced that Equus will be closing on June 9, although the two stars will be heading to Broadway in 2008 (making an American transfer is getting to be a habit for Richard Griffiths?last summer’s wildly successful run of The History Boys garnered him a Tony, one of the production’s record six wins), and a version will head out on tour around the UK this summer, starring Coronation Street star Richard Fleeshman (another actor keen to make the transition from young star to established actor). Get a ticket now ? you won’t regret it. But leave the children at home.

Equus is at the Gielgud Theatre. Box office: 0870 950 0915