The play “Equus” is one of the most important plays in the history of theatre because it explores religious and sexual deviance in a young individual named Alan. Alan is the play’s protagonist, and through him a discussion is encouraged: should people have a right to worship however they choose, even if the religion itself is damaging to society. I claim that “Equus” was the most shocking play in terms of sexual exposure, and by being so shocking has changed the course of censorship in theatre and film. In this paper, I will compare “Equus” with other plays/movies/art-forms of its time and support my argument.
Peter Shaffer’s “Equus” is the painful story of a conflicted young man who is suppressed by society’s interpretation of what is acceptable. Alan Strang, the main character of the story, is a mentally unstable teenager whose perception of life is distorted. Although Alan never intentionally wishes to do wrong or to bring harm to anybody, he inevitably instigates and carries out the act of the blinding of six horses. Alan’s nature is mentally torn between how his mind and body function and what his family tries to instill in him which is where inevitably the heart of this production lies.
While the play was written in 1973, an interpretation of the production was made into a major motion picture four years later. The film received an R rating, but the producers of the film worried that the film would receive an X rating for its use of full frontal male nudity. It was the first film to have a nude frontal scene with a man to not receive an X rating. Similarly the play is the first one of its kind in terms of male nudity. No play has ever been so bold, and even today no play reveals quite as much as “Equus” does. In 2007 it was revived with Daniel Radcliffe as Alan, and it still circulated quite a shock. At the time of the release of “Equus”, it did not receive much appreciation, even though it scored a Tony for Best Play and a Drama Desk for Best Foreign Play. It was a seen as too edgy for most audiences, and it took a while for it to get the recognition it truly deserved.
“Equus” was instrumental in changing how we as audiences view the body. Without the nudity, we can’t fully understand Alan’s obscure sexual obsession with the horses. This play changed the way audiences looked at censorship. It also challenges audiences to look at religion, and what should be acceptable in terms of religious practice.