Student Question

What are some examples of metatheatre or metadrama in Equus by Peter Shaffer?

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Metatheatre or metadrama refers to theatre or drama that calls attention to its status as drama, and that often contains self-referential imagery or other material that reminds the audience that the play's "realism" is in fact artificial and theatrical. Such an approach, if done well, can actually produce a very powerful theatrical experience, as the idea that theatrical artifice can be stripped bare then allows for actors' performances to really define a play's potential. One metatheatrical aspect of Equus involves the portrayal of horses on stage. Clearly, using live horses would be impractical for many reasons. In most productions, the horses are represented by actors wearing horse costumes (heads or masks, hooves, tails) or carrying horse puppets they move with their hands and shoulders (heads and hooves). The original Broadway production drew excellent reviews for its unusual stylized production design.

By using this metatheatrical device, the production allows the audience to free itself from having to think about horses as a physical entity and engages the imagination to consider the symbolism of horses as they loom large in the mind of the main character. The play is ultimately about mental illness, and an obsession with horses that affects a young man's sexual health and emotional stability. The play's metatheatrical stance towards representation of the horses allows a thoughtful involvement with the play's deeper issues.

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