Equus is a play by Peter Shaffer, telling the story of a psychiatrist who attempts to treat a young man who has a pathological fascination with horses.
Shaffer was inspired to write Equus when he heard of a crime involving a teenage boy's apparently senseless injury to horses. He set out to construct a fictional account of what might have caused the incident, without knowing any of the details of the crime. The play is essentially a detective story, with the psychiatrist trying to understand the cause of the boy's actions while wrestling with his own sense of purpose.
Debut and cast
The show was originally staged by the National Theatre at the Old Vic in London in 1973. It was directed by John Dexter, and starred Alec McCowen as psychiatrist Martin Dysart and Peter Firth as Alan Strang, the patient. It was subsequently presented on Broadway at the Plymouth Theatre with Anthony Hopkins and Peter Firth.
Later, Tom Hulce played the role of Alan Strang and Anthony Perkins replaced Hopkins as Martin Dysart. Perkins was briefly replaced by Richard Burton for the star's return to Broadway for a limited run. Perkins resumed the part when Burton's run ended. The play received a Tony Award for best play in 1975.
In 2007 the role of Alan Strang will be played by Daniel Radcliffe and Martin Dysart will be played by Richard Griffiths. Equus will be directed by Thea Sharrock, director of the Gate fringe theatre in Notting Hill, west London.
Equus was acclaimed not only for its well crafted plot and the performances by the actors, but also for its unusual staging. The scenes involving "horses" were portrayed by the actors in brown track suits wearing a surreal-looking wire abstraction of a horse's head. The entire cast, including the actors playing the horses, remained seated on stage for the play's duration, watching the action along with the audience. Part of the audience was seated on the stage as well, in bleachers, that looked out into the auditorium, creating the effect of the audience surrounding the action.
Shaffer adapted the play for a 1977 film starring Richard Burton, Peter Firth, Eileen Atkins, Colin Blakely, Joan Plowright and Jenny Agutter, and directed by Sidney Lumet.
Equus is to be recreated in 2007 with Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths cast in the leading roles. The play will be directed by Thea Sharrock, and will open in London in March. With its famous cast member, it has caused controversy, as the role of Alan Strang is required to ride naked across the stage on a horse.