equus revisited: part two

Part two of my Afterword to the 2009 Old Stile Press illustrated edition of Peter Shaffer’s Equus.

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Two decades on, an unfinished circle drew closer to completion when Nicolas McDowall suggested that I collaborate with the Old Stile Press on an edition of Equus ‘with images’. Here was an opportunity to bring together the experiences of both my former vocation and my present one. The idea had come about when Callum Jones, himself a maker of books, met Nicolas at a book fair in London and whispered the words ‘Equus‘ and Clive Hicks-Jenkins’ in his ear. According to Nicolas, his first response was ‘It’s obvious! Why didn’t I think of that?’ The idea took root in his imagination, and after extensive enquiries and negotiations by Frances, permissions were secured.

Double-page spread

Page opening (my favourite ‘decoration’ in the book)

During the ensuing eighteen months I discovered that making images to accompany the text of a play was a more challenging task than decorating a volume of poems. Poetry supports allusion, as I had previously found when working on Old Stile Press editions of the work of Richard Barnfield and Catriona Urquhart. Vignettes of mossy gravestones under country spires have decorated many poetic meditations on the transience of life and have been interpreted as metaphors, enriching the words without overwhelming them. Thomas Bewick was a master of the vignette and, no doubt, that is why so many volumes of poetry have come decorated with wood-engravings by him or his followers.

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But the meaning of a contemporary play text is usually more explicit. There are characters who come with histories, events dramatic and mundane, stage directions, numbered scenes and dialogue. In the book I knew my images would sit next to Shaffer’s words. I wanted to avoid describing too closely the dramatic action of the play, which would result in overstatement. Moreover Equus came freighted with the imaginative inventions of its original designer, John Napier. I needed to create my own universe for this new expression of Shaffer’s story. Meditations and inventions, rather than recollections of past productions, were my aim.

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Part three of the Equus Afterword tomorrow.

6 thoughts on “equus revisited: part two

  1. ah, the horse-headed man that i have found so inspiring….and the mask above him is also fantastic. the second image here, though, is really wonderful, the impact of changing the perspective that way is perfect!

  2. Well you did it, these really capture the spirit in a decisively Clivean manner. Quite wonderful.
    I chuckled at your allusion to mossy tombstones, a personal weakness i am afraid to admit (-;

    • I LOVE mossy tombstones, and indeed have had occasion to use them myself. But they wouldn’t have been at all helpful on Equus!


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