‘Equus’ playwright Sir Peter Shaffer dies aged 90

Playwright Sir Peter Shaffer has died, he was 90 years old.

Shaffer is best known for the play ‘Equus’. The story of a troubled young man who discusses with a psychiatrist why he has blinded several horses caused controversy upon it’s original release and continued to challenge audiences for decades.

Alongside ‘Equus’ Shaffer is also remembered for his play ‘Amadeus’, the story of the rivalry between Wolfgang Mozart and the lesser known composer Antonio Salieri. The play was adapted for the screen and became an Oscar winning film.

Shaffer died while on a trip to the southwest of Ireland. He fell seriously ill last week. Sir Peter celebrated his 90th birthday last month.

His agent, Rupert Lord, said: “He was simply at the end of his life but delighted to have been able to celebrate his 90th birthday with friends and then, I think, decided it was time.”

Shaffer’s work often touched on themes of homosexuality and featured characters who fell outside ‘the norm’.

The playwright ‘s first work ‘The Salt Sea’ was presented by the BBC in 1954. HIs big break came in 1958 when his play ‘Five Figure Exercise’ was directed in the West End by Sir John Gielgud. The play also found success on Broadway and was adapted for a film.

Shaffer’s next project was a double bill ‘The Private Ear / The Public Eye’ which starred Kenneth Williams and Dame Maggie Smith.

Shaffer would work again with Smith in the late ’80s writing the play ‘Lettuce and Lovage’ specially for the actress. After a history making run at The Globe Theatre, the play moved to Broadway and Smith won the best actress Tony award.

In 1973 Shaffer’s best known work ‘Equus’ premiered, the controversial play was a success around the world, but when a production visited the WA town of Geraldton in the 1970’s the show was shut down by the police. Actor  Robert van Mackelenberg spent several hours in the cells before being released.

The play was adapted into a film in 1977 which was directed by Sidney Lumet and starred Richard Burton and future ‘Spooks’ star Peter Firth.


The play has a resurgence in popularity when it was re-staged in London in 2007. Harry Potter stars Daniel Radcliffe and Richard Griffiths took on the lead roles. The production drew widespread attention as Radcliffe appeared naked in the play, taking on his first adult acting role after a career as the boy wizard.

A Perth production in 2009 presented by the now defunct Perth Theatre Company starred Australian actor Khan Chittenden.

Shaffer was awarded a CBE in 1987 and was knighted in 2001. His twin brother Anthony was also a well known writer penning the play ‘Sleuth’ that also was turned into a successful film, and the swcreenplays for Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘Frenzy’ and the British cult classic ‘The Wicker Man’. Anthony Shaffer passed away in 2001.

OIP Staff


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