full circle


Above: National Theatre poster for Equus. The image is by Moura George

Peter Shaffer’s Equus enthralls London audiences when first presented by the National Theatre at the Old Vic. The play is directed by John Dexter and designed by John Napier, starring Alec McCowen as Martin Dysart and twenty-year-old Peter Firth in his breakthrough role as Alan Strang. I see the play and I’m swept away by its power.


Above: Gilbert Lesser poster for Sidney Lumet’s film of the play. (My thanks to John Coulthart at Feuilleton for identifying the designer .)

Sydney Lumet directs the screen version of Equus, adapted by Shaffer himself. Richard Burton and Peter Firth head a cast that includes Eileen Atkins, Joan Plowright, Colin Blakely and Jenny Agutter.


I’m asked to direct a murder mystery play by Anthony Shaffer. Whodunnit is an opportunity to work with an interesting cast on a national tour, and I accept the offer. However, I harbour a faint hope that in so doing I might meet the playwright’s twin brother Peter and, by dint of the wonderful work I plan to do, convince him I’ll be the perfect director for his great play, Equus. At the opening Anthony declares himself delighted with the production of Whodunnit, but I never meet Peter and I never direct Equus. A few years later I leave my career in the theatre to concentrate on painting.


Above: Red Halter. Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Conté pencil on Arches paper.

My first major exhibition in a public gallery, The Mare’s Tale, opens at Newport Museum and Art Gallery. The main body of work in it is a meditation on my father’s childhood memory of the Welsh mid-winter tradition of the Mari Lwyd, and how he was marked by the experience and haunted by it right up to his death. The Mari Lwyd was from the ‘hobby-horse’ tradition of mumming, and manifested as a horse’s skull on a pole with a sheet draped to cover the man who carried it. But in my drawings the Mari appears in many forms, some of which echo Shaffer’s horse-worshipping boy.

Above: Stumbles and Falls II. Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Conté pencil on Arches paper.

Above: The Mare’s Tale. Poems by Catriona Urquhart and images by Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Published by the Old Stile Press in 2001.

Catriona Urquhart produces a ‘poetic text’ for the exhibition, originally intended to be printed onto gallery panels. However, Nicolas and Frances McDowall at the Old Stile Press are so impressed by the poems, that they publish them to coincide with the opening. Titled The Mare’s Tale, the edition is illustrated with pen and ink images that I make specially for it.

Tend: Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Conté pencil on Arches paper.

I’m invited to show two works from The Mare’s Tale series in the exhibition Dreaming Awake at the Terezin Memorial Gallery in the Czech Republic.


Deposition III. Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Conté pencil on Arches paper.

A second Mari Lwyd exhibition, The Tower on the Hill, opens at Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery, with all the drawings from The Mares’s Tale plus a handful of new works on the same theme. Among the new drawings is Deposition III, which is acquired by Nicolas and Frances McDowall of The Old Stile Press.


Above: Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Collage made as a trial image for the Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Equus.

Equus has continued to transfix audiences and actors over three decades, and diverse productions of it have been staged in countries around the world. Finally a major London revival of the play appears when Thea Sharrock’s production opens at the Gielgud Theatre with Richard Griffiths and Daniel Radcliffe as Dysart and Strang. A performance is attended by Callum James, who has seen my drawing Deposition III while staying with Nicolas and Frances McDowall at their home in Wales. Later that weekend Callum meets with Nicolas at a London book fair, and whispers the words ‘Equus‘ and ‘Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ in his ear. Nicolas approaches me with the notion of making an illustrated edition of Equus. Permissions are sought and agreed with the author and Penguin Books. After a trial image made from collage, I begin work by making a series of preparatory maquettes before starting on some drawings.

Above: Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Maquette made in preparation for the Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Equus.

Above: Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Preparatory drawings for the Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Equus. Conté pencil and acrylic on paper.


Above: Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Images for the Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Equus.

The Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Equus is launched at the London Art Book Fair. Simon Callow, who has been playing Dysart in the national tour of Equus, turns up at the event to lend his support. His insights into the text have been fundamental to the way I’ve approached it.


Above: Both Fall. Clive Hicks-Jenkins. Conté pencil on Arches paper. Collection of Simon Callow.

My sixtieth birthday retrospective opens at the Gregynog Gallery of the National Library of Wales. The National Museum of Wales, Brecknock Museum and Art Gallery and private collectors from across Wales lend works for the exhibition, and for the first time since 2002, all the large Mari Lwyd drawings are assembled in one place.

Above: the Gregynog Gallery of the National Library of Wales, 2011.

Lund Humpphries publish a monograph of my work to coincide with the retrospective, with an introduction by Simon Callow in which he describes that it was a drawing from the Mare’s Tale series seen in a Bath art gallery, that led him to seek me out. A Mari Lwyd drawing from his own collection hangs in the gallery.


I’m approached by Isabelle De Cat, picture editor at Penguin, who asks permission to use an image of one of my maquettes on the cover of the play, due to be re-editioned in new livery by Penguin Modern Classics. The new Penguin edition will be available in mid-2013, forty years after I first saw and fell in love with Equus at the Old Vic.

28 thoughts on “full circle

  1. Pingback: Give a Maquette a Home… | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  2. Pingback: Equus, at last. | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

  3. Seems like only yesterday you were multi tasking with such aplomb for Little Shop of Horrors, but this work and the tale you have shared ….well it takes my breath away Clive. What a journey and what an outcome … Best wishes for your sixtieth … I too, like many of the commenters here, will look out for the Equus cover….Do you remember horse – riding with Sam, Marie, Michael and Mike? We were such a loving positive group and pretty similar in our lust for life and living it to the full …. With you the lynchpin……music, art, dance, reading, drama, swimming and …..equines. You were and are, the only director and this the only theatre company where I have been encouraged to have such an active life outside as well as on stage….. It was such a relaxing yet professional company at Theatr Clwyd. You encouraged us to bond as a group and to question not just our contributions theatrically but as people… My husband Paul came to visit and see the show. He was immediately made to feel at home. You decided we should go riding in the mountains. Paul was having difficulty coaxing his horse down the mountainside until he was encouraged by you to be a little firmer with his leg squeezes… He shot down the hill like the proverbial Meatloaf Bat…. We have never forgotten his near hysteria!!!!! So many lovely memories ….. ThankYOU ….We both send best wishes and good health to you and look forward to following more of your adventures in life …

    • Dear Lyn

      What a lovely surprise to see you here. Funnily enough, LSoH has been much on my mind recently. A few years ago I wrote about it at the Artlog, and the posts get a lot of traffic, I think mostly from companies about to embark on designing productions of their own. (You can see what I wrote about the Clwyd production if you type Little Shop into the search bar at the top of this page.)

      We did have a wonderful time while we were working at Theatr Clwyd, didn’t we? I recall the riding and the picnics and the social life of the theatre. It was so lively and felt more like a way of life than a simple gig. I think that when actors presented for work in Mold, the place itself… that sense of a community of performers coming together and dedicated to purpose… helped concentrate the energies. Not much to do there other than work hard and enjoy the setting, and it meant that without the distractions of city life or even families, actors and production staff spent a lot more time together. The season of Toby Robertson’s production of Anthony and Cleopatra, I recall unease among Theatr Clwyd staff and the resident actors because rehearsals were held in London to accommodate Vanessa Redgrave and Timothy Dalton, and there was the sense of the director and his lead players not committing to being a part of the Clwyd community. But for the most part, the casts gathered in Mold to rehearse, and the place and the performances always felt the better for it

      After Little Shop of Horrors I hoped that I might be asked to work at Theatr Clwyd again, but it never happened. I took what came my way as a director, and what came were touring plays I didn’t have much faith in. I did a lot of work on conference shows before running out of enthusiasm for the business, at which point I walked away from it all. I had some years in the wilderness thereafter. It felt awful. Can’t describe the feelings of grief. But then I began painting, the world turned and everything came right again. The best of what I had been in the theatre, got poured into my work as a painter. And here I am over twenty-five years later, returning to designing and directing, though absolutely on my own terms and with a tailor-made project that feels an extension of my work as an artist. Funny how things work out.

      I suspect that Little Shop was the best thing I did back then, though at the time it was crushing that my work on it never led to other opportunities to work in a similar way. It’s made me feel proud, reading what you’ve written about those times. I’d thought them special, but one can never be sure one isn’t just misremembering, or worse, being deluded. Thank you Lyn for reminding me that it was indeed a special time, shared with a very special cast of performers and crew of technicians.

      Lots of love to you and Paul. (I’m glad he survived my rather gung-ho advice on how to go faster on a horse!) xxx

  4. Pingback: it’s been a long wait… | Clive Hicks-Jenkins' Artlog:

    • Thanks Thom. I’ve always known there was a circle-ish shape in my history regarding this subject, but putting it together for the post has made me realise just how neatly the snake has swallowed its own tail!

  5. Back from a little holiday to find this……wow! Simply wonderful to follow that journey and see all those beautiful images. Those conté pencil drawings always take my breath away, Clive. Thank you for them.

    • Good to hear that you and Kit have been enjoying a break. Hope you’re both back refreshed.

      Yes, it has been a bit of a journey. Thank you, Shellie, for the kind words.

      I’ve been admiring the plant you gave us, well-bedded and getting quite filled-out in the garden. We protected it with sticks and a hoop of mesh, and the rabbits have stayed away!

  6. An amazing post. One of the most satisfying things about creative work is if you’re fortunate enough to see things work themselves out in this way. Also love that Gilbert Lesser poster! Looks very daring now to set the title so tightly; if you did that today people would complain.

    • There are a few film posters that were done for Equus, and this is the one that appealed most to me for this post. Thank you for the reminder. I’ll add Lesser’s name up there.

      Life often feels chaotic, with no rhyme or reason to the way events turn out. There’s danger, of course, in looking for reasons or imposing a retrospective order on chance events, and I do try to avoid being ‘guided’ by an emerging pattern, or feeling the need to fill a gap in an incomplete shape. But in this case it’s difficult not to see the circle, and there’s satisfaction in knowing that it’s complete. However, perhaps it would be best to consider it a circle made of chain, because an opportunity has emerged to examine the material and take it further. It may be that I will be adding another ‘link’!

  7. So cross. I read this, this lunchtime on my way into London and wrote a reply which then just wouldn’t post. So frustrating because its impossible to remember all the words but it was something like…

    I feel very honoured to be able to call you my friend, and to be a small fly on the artlog wall of living history. What a wonderful heritage Clive. All the more fabulous being able to share it with friends here. I look forward to owning my own copy of a Clive Hicks-Jenkins fronted Equus.

    I was going into London because Lucy was singing in a large choir at Westminster Central Hall this evening so had to drop her for dress rehearsal at 3pm. This gave me an hour and a half to spare. I hotfooted it to Tate Britain where there is a new exhibition of Pre-Raphaelite art on display. I thought it might be one or two rooms…oh my goodness no…every work you’ve ever seen or read about is there, room after room after room of sumptuous stuff. paintings of all kinds, sketches, textiles, wallpaper, sculpture… I was staggered by the amount but most of all by the vibrant colour still on these works, and the details that you can never see in a printed image…a fold of fabric, wrinkles in stockings, every brush stroke of red hair. I had a really good cultural hour and a half but could easily have spent hours wandering. I have to go back to do the rest of the gallery now!

    • Thank you Jacqui. I too am happy that our paths crossed, and that friendship has blossomed on and off the Artlog.

      Glad that you had a profitable hour and a half at Tate Britain. It sounds as though the exhibition really caught your imagination.

    • 2011 was quite a year. I loved having you visit us here, Marly, and hope that one day we may welcome you back to Ty Isaf. But before that, perhaps we’ll drop by on you in Cooperstown. Of course only when you’re fit for visitors. We don’t want to tip you into a ‘They’re coming, they’re coming!!!!!’ panic.

      • Hah. That would be if you came before the nest-returners leave. You probably wouldn’t want to visit us right now: the havoc of five people’s lives colliding is pretty lively! Jolly a lot of the time, but lively…

  8. When I saw this post on my iPad whilst waiting for a train earlier today I knew I would have to wait until I had some decent time later in the day to properly digest everything that was going on here – what an amazing story, isn’t life fabulous sometimes, I love the way it tops even the most fantastic scripts. The stream of images is staggering, I’m in awe, thanks so much for putting this together Clive

    • If someone had shown me a glimpse into the future somewhere along this rather tortuously winding route, I would simply not have believed my eyes. Sometimes even the most ambitious yearnings seem tame when compared to the eventual outcomes.

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