In the National production the horses were acted using horse head masks in the manner of a Greek tragedy; there is a chorus too. In fact, Shaffer states in his notes in this text that “The actors should never crouch on all fours, or even bend forward ... Animal effect must be created entirely mimetically, through the use of legs, knees, neck, face, and the turn of the head ... the masking has an exact and ceremonial effect.” (Author’s Notes on the Play xxvii) In the Stratford production masks were done away with. The horses were grey-clad actors. Nugget was a well-built male actor wearing only shorts; he bent forward slightly and stuck his arms in from of him as though they were the stiff forelegs of a horse. And then he moved his body so that I believed he was a horse. Somehow he could manage to ripple his muscles in the way that you can see shivers running through a horses flanks; somehow he twitched and shied and nuzzled exactly like a horse. It was perhaps the most remarkable purely physical performance I have ever seen any actor give; the first time in my experience that the best performance was entirely without words.
It was a production of intense sexual power. Both acts begin with Alan in an embrace with Nugget. In the first Act there is a moment when Alan has his first ride on Trojan, sitting on the shoulders of a horse played by a mostly naked actor and in front of the Horseman, and the rhythmic movements of horse and Alan and horseman were like the rhythmic thrustings and swayings of the pelvis during sex. After wards Alan says "There was sweat on my legs from the neck. The fellow held me tight ... All that power going any way you wanted ... His sides were all warm, and the smell ..." The first act ends with Alan riding Nugget, "naked in his chinkle-chankle" in an act or worship as orgasm; he shouts "I'm stiff! Stiff in the wind!" and "I want to be in you ... Equus, I love you! ... Make us One Person!" But it is the end of the play which is, almost literally, the climax. Alan and his girlfriend take their clothes off in the stable to make love but he can't do it with the horses watching; he gets upset and tells her to go; she gets dressed and leaves. Then, whilst he is naked, in a sort of dance, with the horses plunging all around him, in religious ecstasy and guilt, he blinds the horses and collapses.
My heart was beating and I found that I was holding my breath. It was wonderful.
- “It is my object to tell tales; to conjure the spectres of horror and happiness, and fill other heads with the images which have haunted my own. My desire, I suppose, is to perturb and make gasp: to please and make laugh: to surprise. If I am a peacock in this respect, at least I am aware that peacockery is one of the dramatist’s obligations.” (A personal essay by Peter Shaffer; vi - vii)
- “I write and destroy the writing; I rewrite, and destroy the rewriting - and I continue in this way until not only the images but the words are entirely clear in my mind, and the flavour of each scene is strong on my tongue.” (A personal essay by Peter Shaffer; viii)
- “The only thing I know for sure is this: a horse's head is finally unknowable to me. Yet I handle children's heads - which I must presume to be more complicated” (S2)
- “It's just professional menopause. Everyone gets it sooner or later.” (S6)
- “That's the funny thing about religious people. They always think their susceptibilities are more important than non-religious.” (S7)
- “The horse isn't dressed. It's the most naked thing you ever saw!” (S 13)
- “We were brisk in our wooing, brisk in our wedding, brisk in our disappointment.” (S 18)
- “All my wife has ever taken from the Mediterranean - from that whole vast intuitive culture - are four bottles of Chianti to make into lamps, and two china condiment donkeys labelled Sally and Peppy.” (S 18)
- “Life is only comprehensible through a thousand local Gods.” (S 18)
- “The Normal is the good smile in a child's eyes ... it is also the dead stare in a million adults. It both sustains and kills ... It is the Ordinary made beautiful: it is also the Average made lethal.” (S 19)
“Can you think of anything worse one can do to anybody than take away their worship?” (S 25)
- “To go through life and call it yours - your life - you first have to get your own pain. Pain that's unique to you” (S 25)
- “That boy has known a passion more ferocious that I have felt in any second of my life.” (S 25)
- “I shrank my own life. ... I settled for being pallid and provincial, out of my own eternal timidity. The old story of bluster, and do bugger-all.” (S 25)
- “We keep saying old people are square. Then when they suddenly aren't - we don't like it!” (S 31)
- “I kept looking at all the people in the street. They were mostly men coming out of pubs. I suddenly thought - they all do it! All of them! ... they're not just Dads - they’re people with pricks! ... and Dad - he's not just Dad either. He's a man with a prick too.” (S 31)