The naked truth behind the most 'shocking' scene in Equus

Posted on 26 July 2019

To perform fully nude on stage takes a lot of... well... balls. But that hasn't stopped Ethan Kai from baring it all in Equus' most notorious scene. While West End audiences and/or prudes may be 'shocked' by the near-ten minutes of 'glory,' Kai insists "the nude scene is shocking but necessary." But why does the scene continue to be so controversial? Do audiences let it distract them from the play itself? And is there really equine pornography in the piece? Find out all the answers to these questions and more as we round up a history of the buzz surrounding this infamous scene.

The nude scene made (in)famous by Daniel Radcliffe

Let's be honest. Many of us born within the last quarter of a century had no idea what Peter Shaffer's Equus was until we saw Harry Potter flashing his 'second magic wand' all over the internet. Daniel Radcliffe, whose role as Alan Strang in both the 2007 and 2008 West End and Broadway revivals of Equus shed his innocent child star image faster than the Nimbus 2000, once mentioned in an interview that he was well aware a certain percentage of audiences were coming to look at his Johnson night after night. And with $3 million in advance ticket sales for the play's Broadway debut, that connection seems valid.

However, the overwhelming success and record-breaking box office receipts did not hide the many complaints coming from overprotective mothers on both sides of the pond. Maternal West End theatregoers, in particular, caused an uproar and boycotted the show. Radcliffe fired back stating they were "treating it like it's pornography and it's not." The stigma still remained.

Over 10 years later and the Equus nude scene is still controversial

It's been over ten years since Daniel Radcliffe played Alan Strang and the fact of the matter is, that even now with the new West End revival of Equus at Trafalgar Studios (previously at the Theatre Royal Stratford East), the play's nude scene is still mistakenly associated with equine pornography. As Peter Skidmore, director of the 2015 Cambridge University Amateur Dramatic Club production, once pointed out: while there is a pathological sensual attraction towards horses in the play, at no point does the main character actually have sex with a horse.

So then what does the nude scene in Equus mean?

Many people forget that Equus is a psychological thriller and an exploration of the psyche of Alan Strang. While the presence of a nude 17-year-old on stage is a striking image, and understandably so, it is in no way gratuitous. Ethan Kai, who currently portrays the character in the Trafalgar Studios run, mentioned, "That moment of nudity is when you see Alan at his most vulnerable, a state he has tried to avoid getting into." At the end of the piece, you'll not only be left caring for Alan Strang, but you'll also find yourself analysing to what extent you yourself can relate to him and how far you are willing to empathise.

Equus Trafalgar Studios 72-hour flash sale discounted tickets now available!

You don't want to miss the critically-acclaimed West End revival of Equus that has managed to captivate even Sir Ian McKellen himself. Save up to £29 on West End theatre tickets for Equus with £64 tickets now offered at £35, £52 tickets now £25, £41 tickets now £25, £38 tickets now £25, and £29 tickets now £15! This special ticket offer for Equus is valid for all performances until 24 August 2019, but you must book by 29 July 2019.

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Nicholas Ephram Ryan Daniels

By Nicholas Ephram Ryan Daniels

Ephram is a jack of all trades and enjoys attending theatre, classical music concerts and the opera.