Equus by Peter Shaffer
(Penguin Plays)

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In "Equus," which took critics and public alike by storm and has gone on to become a modern classic, Peter Shaffer depicts the story of a deranged youth who blinds six horses with a spike. Through a psychiatrist's analysis of the events, Shaffer creates a chilling portrait of how materialism and convenience have killed our capacity for worship and passion and, consequently, our capacity for pain. Rarely has a playwrite created an atmosphere and situation that so harshly pinpoint the spiritual and mental decay of modern man.

About Peter Shaffer

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The psychiatrist Dysart and the composer Salieri, the protagonists of Shaffer's most successful plays, are overcivilized men, each faced with a figure of tormented inspiration---the horse mutilator Strang and the simpering and sublime Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (see Vol. 3). The envy felt by the cultivated and repressed for a mind capable of confronting its own demons (and angels) is a subject that runs back through Shaffer's earlier pairings of liberal and reactionary in Shrivings (1970), of conquistador and Inca in The Royal Hunt of the Sun (1964). It may even be traceable, in some way, to Shaffer's own equivocal position in the British drama. Shaffer burst into public attention at the very moment the new drama found its voice---Five Finger Exercise won him a citation as the most promising British playwright in 1958, the same year that Harold Pinter and Arnold Wesker had their first London productions. Yet from the start, Shaffer was chided for the impersonality---the overconstructed and underinspired quality---of his playwrighting. (Five Finger Exercise was, as its title suggests, an essay in traditional domestic melodrama.) Director John Dexter made heroic efforts to enrich the texture of The Royal Hunt of the Sun with ritual, mime, and music in a grand National Theatre production. He was more successful in Equus (1973), in which he brought some of the audience onstage and placed horse-head masks on actors. But Dexter's near-collaborative efforts, and the extensive rewriting that marked Peter Hall's production of Amadeus (1980), suggest that Shaffer, despite his successes, is too reticent for the overheated contemporary stage, a Salieri clever enough to acknowledge his own exclusion. Born in Liverpool, Shaffer spent three years working in coal mines before entering Cambridge University, and several more employed by a music publisher and the New York Public Library. The twin of playwright Anthony Shaffer (Sleuth, 1970), he has also written detective novels and music criticism.
Published October 2, 1984 by Penguin Books. 112 pages
Genres: Literature & Fiction, Education & Reference, Humor & Entertainment, Arts & Photography. Non-fiction

Unrated Critic Reviews for Equus

BC Books

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McCann, Roger Berlind, John Gore, Hirschfeld Productions, Bill Kenwright, Emily Fisher Landau, Arielle Tepper Madover, Peter May, Chase Mishkin and Spring Sirkin.

Sep 26 2008 | Read Full Review of Equus (Penguin Plays)

BC Books

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Peter Shaffer’s 1973 play Equus has been hailed as one of England’s best modern plays.

Jul 28 2009 | Read Full Review of Equus (Penguin Plays)

The Wall Street Journal

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Williams's florid romanticism is as much a part of the play as his hard-headed frankness, and a "Streetcar" that doesn't go over the top from time to time is as untrue to the play's divided spirit as one that is flamboyant to a fault.

Sep 26 2008 | Read Full Review of Equus (Penguin Plays)

Los Angeles Times

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He blinded six horses for a complex of reasons that involved seeing a god, "Equus," inside those horses, and being unable to bear looking at that god inside those horses looking at him.

Apr 13 1988 | Read Full Review of Equus (Penguin Plays)

Los Angeles Times

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We're reminded that \o7 theater \f7 comes from the Greek word \o7 thea\f7 , meaning "the act of seeing."

Jul 03 1993 | Read Full Review of Equus (Penguin Plays)

Entertainment Weekly

(Paging Jeremy Irons!) The supporting cast is highly skilled, particularly Gabrielle Reidy as Alan's Bible-toting mom, and those skeletal horses' heads — worn, as in the original, by actors — still send shivers down the spine.

Mar 09 2007 | Read Full Review of Equus (Penguin Plays)

Entertainment Weekly

Reprising his London star turn in Thea Sharrock's uneven revival of Equus, Radcliffe bravely lays himself bare — yes, even doffing his clothes — and brings a high-strung vulnerability to the role of Alan Strang, the unstable stable boy sent to a mental hospital after blinding six horses.

Sep 24 2008 | Read Full Review of Equus (Penguin Plays)

Austin Chronicle

Not to suggest that director Michael Costello's staging of Peter Shaffer's exceptionally well-made play is anything short of impressive, but his philosophical rationalization behind this production undervalues the play's deeper message as well as the extraordinary work of his cast, crew, and desi...

Oct 08 1999 | Read Full Review of Equus (Penguin Plays)

Spirituality & Practice

Martin Dysart (Richard Burton), a doctor in an English psychiatric hospital, is called upon by a woman magistrate (Eileen Atikins) to take on young Alan Strang (Peter Firth) as a patient.

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New York Magazine

I’d forgotten that Act One ends with an honest-to-God hypnosis, complete with smoke machine and “Your eyyyyyes … are getting very … heavy.” It’s too bad that one of the few aspects of the script to retain cultural currency—its strikes against brand names and consumerism—was cut from this production.

Oct 02 2008 | Read Full Review of Equus (Penguin Plays)

LA Times

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Child psychiatrist Martin Dysart (Jim Hanna) notes teen Alan Strang (Patrick Stafford), first seen embracing "one particular horse, called Nugget" (Aaron Misakian).

Jul 09 2009 | Read Full Review of Equus (Penguin Plays)

Project MUSE

The staging of the sex scene, arguably the most talked about aspect of Equus, was well-directed by Sharrock, who demonstrated no sense of exploitation or voyeuristic intent within her staging.

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Jan 30 2013 | Read Full Review of Equus (Penguin Plays)


It's extraordinarily well-acted by Tony-Award winner Richard Griffiths as the troubled psychiatrist Martin Dysart and stage novice Daniel Radcliffe as the even more troubled 17-year-old Alan Strang, who has been institutionalized after putting out the eyes of six horses in the stable where he works.

Sep 25 2008 | Read Full Review of Equus (Penguin Plays)

Talkin' Broadway

For performances beginning October 19: Orchestra, Mezzanine (Rows A-E), and Mezzanine (Rows F-H) $116.50, Mezzanine (Rows J-L) $66.50, Stage Seating $116.50.

Sep 25 2008 | Read Full Review of Equus (Penguin Plays)


Peter Shaffer’s Equus starts with the stark news that a young man has blinded six horses, and the wild ride deep into his psyche easily sustains the play through to its conclusion.

Feb 26 2013 | Read Full Review of Equus (Penguin Plays)

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