Equus: Sri Lankan thoughts


This post assumes you’ve seen/know the play or read the script. There’s a interesting discussion on Naz’s blog that might help. Blogging on borrowed time doesn’t seem to allow much scope for descriptions. Let alone for this type of arty talk.

Since I saw the recent production of Equus I can’t get away from the parallels between Psychiatry as a form of exorcism, and Sri Lanka’s own version of confronting demons such as Thovil and Bali ceremonies.

The connection is based on the similarities of purpose rather than of methods.

The purpose of things like Thovils and psychiatry is to make people “normal”. To prevent them from being harder (or dangerous) for the collective (society) to deal with. Fundamentally it is about conformity and coming to terms with the consequences of conformity.

Generally normality is thought to be a good thing. The patient in both a Thovil and Psychiatric treatment has undergone some unpleasant experience. Which has resulted in a socially unexceptionably change. They have to be treated and “cured”. The process involves some sort of progressively deeper search for a confrontation with the cause of the trauma.

Psychiatry deploys analytical drugs, questioning, reasoning, hypnosis – most of which is acted in the play. A Thovil ceremony draws out progressively vicious demons; to be ridiculed, cajoled, threatened, placated, and finally convinced to go. The aim of both is to build up to some sort of (cathartic) realisation within the patient. To reduce the behaviours that possess them to a bad dream , a fading unfortunate habit or at the very least, a harmless eccentricity.

Equus turns the generally accepted benign intent of eastern and western “treatment” rituals on its head. A life of “normalcy” is depicted as a dull crippled passionless thing. Personified by the psychiatrist’s middle classed package holiday passion for the “primitive”. The cure itself is depicted as gutting of individuality. Dysart’s dream of officiating in a sacrifice of children is a graphic summery of this view.

Its a view that is alien to the The Thovil master would not have such doubts. He (yes it IS a HE) would be respected (perhaps feared) member of the community. The job offers perhaps a rare sanctioned opportunity to publicly commune with the primordial/supernatural. A chance to be “primitive” and ecstatic AND get paid for it. A Thovil conducting Dysart would not have a jaded suppressed life. He would find his patient’s interacting with the supernatural a form of trespass. A clear incentive to cure the patient.

All this would make a Sri Lankan “localisation” of Equus quite interesting, confronting, and radical. But of course it would require a mind mending work of cultural transition loaded with insane economic and political risk. Perhaps it is impossible. But its a handy topic to bang out meandering blog post of arty talk. Its symptom of watching good theatre at the end of a long week. Specially on a sleepy weekend.

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One thought on “Equus: Sri Lankan thoughts

  1. Astute perception.
    The problem arises when one feels repressed. So, the normalcy of Dysart’s life is questioned by Dysart himself, simply because he wants to go out there and fling his clothes off, but he’s managed to hide it all these years, and now Alan Strang, who has none of these hang-ups, is showing him what he wishes he could have.

    So, one has to either accept the constraints that upbringing, religion, community, whatever bring about or throw one’s clothes off.

    Psychiatry seen as castration.

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