Equus: Not Exactly About Horses

When you were a child, you had all sorts of misconceptions about how the world worked. For example, when I was very young, I was convinced that we lived on the inside of the world; that we were surrounded by a crust of blue stuff that was the sky. It’s inevitable that we misunderstand some things about the world as children. After all, much of what children learn they learn from inference (this object fell, I infer that all objects will fall when dropped; A space shuttle launched into outer space, so we must not be surrounded by a crust of blue stuff.) Have you ever wondered which of those misconceptions you still have? Is it possible that one or two or those misconceptions have survived unchallenged in the back of your mind all these years? In a way, that’s a small part of what the play Equus is about.

One of the things I love about theatre as a medium is that they never portray just one main idea (not in good plays, anyway.) You always leave a really great play with plenty of things to think about, and ideas from a really powerful play will stick with you for weeks afterward. When I went to see Equus at the Segal Centre, I didn’t know what to expect. I didn’t know the play, though I could gather from the name that it had something to do with horses. I haven’t stopped thinking about the play since I left the theatre. Equus is one of those plays that sits in the back of your mind, aging, growing, and unfolding as it gathers context from your own life experiences.

To say that Equus is a play “about” any one particular thing would be an injustice. Yes, it has a well established theme. Yes, the plot is linear and easy to follow. But to say that Equus is about coming of age, or about the effect of parents on their children, or the role of psychology in modern society would rob the play of the thousands of smaller themes and questions that the play raises. But to give you a brief idea of what the play is “about,” Equus is about a boy who forms a unique relationship with horses. And when that relationship is superseded by other elements of his life as he grows older, he reacts violently. Some people sum up the play by saying “it’s about a boy who falls in love with a horse.” It’s really not about a boy who falls in love with a horse. In fact, it’s about a boy who deifies a horse and falls in love with a girl. To say much more than that would ruin the play, so you’ll have to see it for yourself, and I highly recommend that you do.

I think it’s safe to say that we can all relate to Alex – the aforementioned boy – in some way. We’ve all had our dreams and misconceptions thrown to the ground and smashed by the cold, stone floor that is reality, and we all know what that pain feels like. There’s something in Equus for all of us, and I think the Segal Centre’s production very successfully turns the play over and pours all the meaning out.

The Segal Centre’s production of Equus runs until October 2nd. For more information, check out their website.

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2 thoughts on “Equus: Not Exactly About Horses

  1. I was definitely wrong when I thought that the play was about a boy who falls in love with a horse, that’s just what i had gathered from the little i had heard about the play…great review Peter!

    • I didn’t mean to single you out! I vaguely remember my mom having read that the play was about a boy falling in love with a horse. I think that’s how the play is commonly described.

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