Wednesday, 18 July 2012

Equus by Peter Shaffer (4/5)

The back says: An explosive play that took critics and audiences by storm, "Equus" is Peter Shaffer's exploration of the way modern society has destroyed our ability to feel passion. Alan Strang is a disturbed youth whose dangerous obsession with horses leads him to commit an unspeakable act of violence. As psychiatrist Martin Dysart struggles to understand the motivation for Alan's brutality, he is increasingly drawn into Alan's web and eventually forced to question his own sanity. "Equus" is a timeless classic and a cornerstone of contemporary drama that delves into the darkest recesses of human existence.

I say: This is another play that I’ve known about all my life but never actually bothered to find out more about – even when Daniel Radcliffe starred in it on Broadway – all I knew was that it had something to do with horses. And since I’ve been dead scared of horses (but a huge admirer of their beauty and strength) since the first time I rode one around age 4-5.

This is one of those instances where I’m kind of glad that I didn’t read this in my teens, because I wouldn’t have been as “open-minded,” for lack of a better word, then.

I’m not sure how much of the plot I should give away, since it was such a surprise and shock, but I’ll say that it’s based on a crime that Shaffer heard about from a friend and then decided to turn into a play. In the notes prior to the play, Shaffer lets us know that he was unable to discern if the rumour he heard was fact of fiction, but he still decided to write about it (p ix).

So we have Alan Strang who has committed this terrible crime, and psychiatrist Martin Dysart who has been, more or less, forced to accept him as a patient (amidst personal problems – of course). In a way, I both loved and hated the way that Dysart handled Alan; at first it was very convincing, but nearing the end, and the final confession, it felt very contrived and sort of theatrical –

the character of Alan gets naked (along with a girl who also works at the stables with him) –

[which is the main reason a friend of mine went to see Radcliffe in the play]

and I didn’t think that part was convincing enough. Nor did I find some of Alan’s mother’s actions to be convincing, although I have to say that his father seemed genuine enough. 

When I first found out what the crime was (highlight if you want to know) he blinds six horses in the stable I couldn’t imagine why anyone would do such a thing. But as the play progresses, and Dysart gets further and further into Alan’s head, it all becomes so captivatingly self-evident.

And I use the word ‘captivatingly’ on purpose – as ghastly as that sounds.

There was no other option for Alan, and it somehow scares me that I can identify with him. Of course, I love plays/stories that make me question myself and my feelings/morals, but this made me somewhat uncomfortable because I could identify so easily with him.

Having said all that, I would love to see this on stage (as with most plays) because there are all these specifics about how the stage is set up and how the actors are supposed to act (they play the horses, as well) that I couldn’t picture well enough in my head. So yeah, maybe in the future I’ll have the chance to relive this on stage, because I doubt that I’ll re-read this play in the coming years.

Of course, I could be wrong... I often am.

*This is my fourteenth entry in The Classic Bribe Challenge (which is an additional incentive for me to work on my Classics Challenge that’s been going on for a tad too long).


  1. I heard of this play when it starred Daniel Radcliffe too. Apparently there was some controversy about him being naked on a poster or something but I never was that interested and didn't know what the story was about. But it does sound intriguing and I haven't read any plays this year (or that many in general) so I think I'll try to find a copy.

    1. Oh, do read this one (I'm recommending it all over the place). There's snot that much nudity, and it's not shocking - which is what all the people talking about it made it sound like.