Act One Scene One

Synopsis of Scene 1

The play opens with a spotlight on Alan Strang, a casually-dressed teenager, with a horse in front of him, nuzzling his neck. Suddenly a cigarette is lit and we see a man in his forties on a bench. This is Martin Dysart, the psychiatrist.

Dysart speaks first and describes the scene of the boy and horse embracing. He explains that he himself is, surprisingly, thinking about the horse and its intentions, rather than the boy.

Alan and the horse, Nugget, leave the stage, and Dysart speaks directly to the audience. It is clear from what he says that he is struggling to maintain belief in his profession of psychiatry. He expresses his concerns that he is damaged himself, and is struggling to understand anything, yet is working with damaged and mentally-ill young people. He compares himself to the horse, reined in and lacking understanding. He then says that he will now explain the situation fully, from the beginning.

Commentary on Scene 1

propagating: breeding, or reproducing.

psychiatrist: Dysart is a psychiatrist, a doctor who specialises in illnesses of the brain, known as mental disorders. His particular area of expertise is the mental disorders of children and teenagers (child psychiatry).

horsepower: Dysart’s use of the term ‘horsepower’ is a kind of joke. The word usually refers to a unit of measurement of power, which came into use when steam engines were invented, to compare the power and speed of an engine with that of a horse, which would previously have been used for the same task. Dysart uses the term in a way which implies that he is talking about his own basic power, which keeps him alive and motivates him, but also relates him to the horse.

Investigating scene 1...

  • How has Shaffer set the scene so far?
    • What do you make of Dysart?
    • What do we know so far about Alan?
  • How important do you think psychiatry is going to be in the play?
  • What impressions are created by the stage set?
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