The success of Equus was attributable partly to the staging designed by John Dexter, who has also directed Black Comedy and The Royal Hunt of the Sun. Dexter helped Shaffer visualize the abstractions that give the play its power and the rituals that inform the play’s spectacle. The play is about madness, and Shaffer manages to dramatize the fantasies of a disturbed boy’s mind, as well as the frustrations of the psychiatrist, Martin Dysart, who is asked by his friend Hesther Salomon to cure the boy who has, for no apparent reason, blinded the horses.
Act 1 is a search for motive and meaning as Dysart interviews the boy and his parents. The boy is at first uncooperative but later comes to trust Dysart and reveals his psychological secrets. Using hypnosis, Dysart gets the boy to remember the experience and manages to put the boy on the road to recovery. Dysart seriously questions, however, whether he should treat the boy at all. The boy, Alan Strang, has a vitality and twisted imagination that fascinate the doctor. Dysart questions whether he should rob Alan of his uniqueness and make him normal, which is to say, ordinary. The play is shaped by Dysart’s monologues and by two spectacles, Alan’s “wild midnight ride” at the end of act 1 and his blinding of the horses at the climax of act 2.
Alan is a friendless loner, ignored by his parents. His worship of horses is solitary, not communal, reflecting...
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