War Horse (play)
Official original poster for the play
|Written by||Michael Morpurgo (novel)
Nick Stafford (play)
|Date premiered||17 October 2007|
|Place premiered||Royal National Theatre, London, England|
|Setting||England, France (1914)|
|[National Theatre (London); Lincoln Center Theater (New York); Princess of Wales Theatre (Toronto) Official site]|
War Horse is a play based on the book of the same name by acclaimed children's writer Michael Morpurgo, adapted for stage by Nick Stafford. Originally Morpurgo thought "they must be mad" to try to make a play from his best-selling 1982 novel. He was proved wrong by the play's instant success. The play's West End and Broadway productions are directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, with "horse choreography" by Toby Sedgwick.
A foal is captured and brought to Devon to be auctioned off. Arthur Narracott bids on the foal, as he hopes to give it to his son Billy, but then his brother Ted, with whom he has a heated rivalry, appears with his son Albert. Ted, who is a drunk and known as the town coward for refusing to fight alongside his brother in Africa, attempts to one-up him by bidding the mortgage money, 39 guineas, on the foal. He wins, though his wife Rose is not pleased. Albert promises to raise the horse until he is ready to be sold. He names him Joey and they form a strong bond as Joey grows up.
Jealous at Albert, Billy convinces his father to get Ted drunk and make an outrageous bet with him - if Joey can be taught to plow within a week, Arthur will pay Ted the 39 guineas Joey was originally worth. If he cannot, Billy keeps Joey. Ted comes home late and whips Joey to make him obey, but Rose and Albert intervene. Albert goes through the difficult process of teaching Joey, and after a week, everyone is amazed at Joey's plowing and Ted wins the bet.
Just as the town celebrates, news of the outbreak of World War I reaches them. Ted sells Joey to the cavalry, breaking his word that he would always belong to Albert. Lieutenant James Nicholls, who originally bid alongside Albert for Joey and often sketched Albert and Joey riding together, promises that he will look after Joey personally. At the same time, Arthur enlists Billy to fight despite his protests, and gives him his grandfather's knife for protection. Joey and Topthorn, another army horse, are shipped to France. There, the British army are overwhelmed by the destructive technology of the Germans - machine guns, barbed wire, and tanks. During the first charge, Nicholls is shot and killed. Billy finds himself riding Joey into battle and is taken by German forces.
Nicholls's sketchbook is sent to Albert, who receives it on Christmas. Horrified by the fact that Joey is out there unprotected, Albert enlists in the army by lying about his age. He befriends a fellow soldier in the infantry, Private David Taylor, who writes letters home for Albert. Billy is brought along with the Germans to a French farm being used as a makeshift hospital. When a nerve-wracked Billy takes back his knife from a German officer and appears to be brandishing it, he is shot and killed. This, combined with almost accidentally shooting Emilie, the little girl who lives at the farm, pushes one of the Germans, Friedrich Muller, into realizing how much this war has twisted him. He shares his love of horses with Emilie, who reminds him of the daughter he left behind, and together they and her mother take care of Joey and Topthorn, who are being kept alive thanks to Joey being able to pull an ambulance for wounded soldiers.
When a shell takes out most of his comrades, Friedrich switches identities with one of them so he can desert the army and return home once the war has ended. This happy time is cut short when the farm is destroyed and Friedrich is discovered by the Germans, including the same man who killed Billy and he recognizes him. Friedrich allows Emilie and her mother to escape though he is caught. Joey and Topthorn are forced to join two other horses on the verge of death in pulling heavy artillery. Once enemies, Joey and Topthorn become friends as they help each other, until Topthorn dies from exhaustion.
As the Germans begin to understand the war from Friedrich's perspective as he mourns over Topthorn, they are interrupted by a tank storming through. Friedrich is killed by the tank as he tries to signal it to stop. Joey runs through the heated battle until he gets caught up in barbed wire in no man's land. The British and the Germans both see him, and, though unable to talk to each other, are able to work together to free him. They flip a coin to see who will take Joey, and the British win, parting on amicable terms with the Germans. Meanwhile, the infantry division that Albert and David are part of comes across Emilie, who is now alone and traumatized by what she has seen, and are ordered to take her to headquarters. On the way, Albert sees the dead horse with Billy's knife still in him, and, believing that the horse is Joey, is broken. Recognizing Joey's name, Emilie attempts to talk to Albert, but then David is shot and killed and Albert is blinded by tear gas.
In the hospital, Albert tells his story to a nurse just as Joey is brought to the camp by the soldiers. Just as Joey is about to be euthanized, Albert hears what is going on just in time and makes the same call to Joey that he did when he was a foal, to which he responds. Albert and Joey are reunited and they return home safe at the end of the war.
Off-West End (2007–09) 
The show premiered on 17 October 2007 in the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre on the South Bank, London, on a run that ended on 14 February 2008. It returned for a second run on 10 September 2008, and closed on 18 March 2009.
West End (2009–) 
War Horse transferred to the West End's New London Theatre, beginning preview performances on 28 March 2009, prior to an official opening of 3 April. The original cast featured Kit Harington as Albert, who reprised his South Bank performance. The production includes an original score composed by Adrian Sutton.
The production met with critical acclaim for its life-size horse puppets from the Handspring Puppet Company, winning an Olivier Award, Evening Standard Theatre Award and London Critics' Circle Theatre Award. On 12 October 2009 the performance was seen by HM Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip, marking their first private theatre visit in four years. War Horse has been popular with audiences, playing to 97% capacity in 2010, subsequently breaking the record for the highest weekly gross for a play in the West End. In December 2010, War Horse was dubbed "the theatrical event of the decade" by The Times. In 2011 it welcomed its millionth audience member.
Broadway (2011–2013) 
War Horse began preview performances at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York City on 15 March 2011, and opened on Broadway 14 April. The British creative team are joined by an all-American cast. Seth Numrich originated the leading role of Albert. The production was only scheduled to have a limited run, closing on 26 June 2011, but soon became open-ended after strong critical reception and ticket sales. The production received five Tony Awards at the 2011 ceremony, including Best Play.
War Horse closed on January 6, 2013, after 718 performances and 33 previews.
Toronto, Canada (2012–2013) 
The show opened a separate Canadian production in Toronto, Ontario on 28 February 2012 at Mirvish Productions' Princess of Wales Theatre, following previews from 10 February. Alex Furber starred as Albert. Production closed on 6 January 2013.
US National Tour (2012–) 
The show's first national tour of the United States previewed at the State University's Morrison Center in Boise, Idaho, before launching at the Ahmanson Theatre in Los Angeles, California from 14 June 2012 on a run through 29 July. It is then expected to visit an additional 29 cities across the country. The role of Albert will be played by Andrew Veenstra.
Melbourne, Australia (2012–) 
The Australian premiere production began previews on 23 December 2012, prior to a 31 December opening night at the Arts Centre Melbourne. It will play until 10 March 2013, ahead of dates in Sydney, Brisbane and Auckland. The role of Albert is played by Cody Fern
UK National Tour (2013–) 
According to the official website, War Horse will embark on a UK Tour starting Autumn 2013.
Berlin, Germany (2013–) 
Film adaptation 
Steven Spielberg directed the movie adaptation of War Horse, released on 25 December 2011, with the screenplay written by Richard Curtis and Lee Hall. The film was shot entirely in England – in Devon, at Stratfield Saye in Berkshire, at Wisley in Surrey, in Luton Hoo Estate, Bedfordshire and at Castle Combe in Wiltshire, using real horses and computer-generated imagery rather than puppets.
The Guardian's Michael Billington wrote in his review:
Elliott and Morris recreate the kaleidoscopic horror of war through bold imagery, including the remorseless advance of a manually operated tank, and through the line-drawings of Rae Smith projected on to a suspended screen. Admittedly the performers are somewhat eclipsed by the action ... The joy of the evening, however, lies in the skilled recreation of equine life and in its unshaken belief that mankind is ennobled by its love of the horse.
Charles Spencer in The Daily Telegraph had written that, generally, "puppets are often an embarrassment, involving a lot of effort and fuss for negligible returns"; in this case, he praised the puppetry as "truly magnificent creations by the Handspring Puppet Company." The Times' 10-year-old guest reviewer called the show "movingly and realistically brought to life" and "an emotional and compelling adaptation of the book."
In reviewing the Broadway production, Ben Brantley wrote in The New York Times, "...it is how Joey is summoned into being, along with an assortment of other animals, that gives this production its ineffably theatrical magic...Beautifully designed by Rae Smith ... and Paule Constable, this production is also steeped in boilerplate sentimentality. Beneath its exquisite visual surface, it keeps pushing buttons like a sales clerk in a notions shop." Brantley suggests, "The implicit plea not to be forgotten applies not just to the villagers, soldiers and horses portrayed here, but also to theater, as an evanescent art that lives on only in audiences’ memories. Judged by that standard, much of War Horse evaporates not long after it ends. But I would wager that for a good while, you’ll continue to see Joey in your dreams."
Entertainment Weekly gave a positive review, calling the show an "imaginative, moving new Broadway drama ... The play's equine stars are the remarkable creation of Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones' Handspring Puppet Company. As manipulated by three handlers dressed in period costumes, the life-size creatures seem to breathe, snort, feed, walk, gallop, and rear up just as naturally as the genuine articles. In no time at all, they become characters as rounded and complex as any of the humans on stage." Time magazine ranked the play as its top choice among all theatre productions in 2011.
The Wall Street Journal's Terry Teachout praised the puppetry, but gave mixed reactions to the play: "The fundamental flaw of 'War Horse' is that Nick Stafford, who wrote the script 'in association' (that's how the credit reads) with South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company, has taken a book that was written for children and tried to give it the expressive weight of a play for adults. Not surprisingly, Mr. Morpurgo's plot can't stand the strain. Dramatic situations that work perfectly well in the context of the book play like Hollywood clichés onstage. In the first act, the craftsmanship is so exquisite that this doesn't matter—much—but things go downhill fast after intermission. The really big problem is the last scene, about which, once again, the drama critics' code commands silence. This much must be said, though: A play that is so forthright about the horrors of war owes its audience a more honest ending."
Theatre review aggregator Curtain Critic gave the production a score of 88 out of 100 based on the opinions of 21 critics.
Awards and nominations 
London production 
- Best Director (Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, nominee)
- Best Design (Rae Smith and the Handspring Puppet Company, winner)
- Best Designer (Basil Jones, Adrian Kohler, Rae Smith, and the Handspring Puppet Company, winner)
- Best New Play (nominee)
- Best Lighting Design (Paule Constable, nominee)
- Best Sound Design (Adrian Sutton and John Tams, nominee)
- Best Set Design (Rae Smith, Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler, winner)
- Best Theatre Choreographer (Toby Sedgwick, winner)
- Best Director (Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, nominee)
- Audience Award for Most Popular Show (nominee)
- Nominated for 'Favourite Play' and 'Favourite Family Show'
Broadway production 
- Distinguished Production of a Play (winner)
- Distinguished Performance (Seth Numrich, nominee)
- Best Play (winner)
- Best Direction of a Play (Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, winner)
- Best Scenic Design of a Play (Rae Smith, winner)
- Best Lighting Design of a Play (Paule Constable, winner)
- Best Sound Design of a Play (Christopher Shutt, winner)
In addition, Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones of Handspring Puppet Company won the Special Tony Award for War Horse.
- 2011 Drama Desk Awards
- Outstanding Play (winner)
- Outstanding New Broadway Play (winner)
- Outstanding Director of a Play (Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, winner)
- Outstanding Lighting Design (Paule Constable, winner)
- Outstanding Featured Actor in a Play (Seth Numrich, nominee)
In addition, Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones of Handspring Puppet Company won the Outer Critics Circle Special Achievement Award, for "Puppet Design, Fabrication and Direction for War Horse".
- Best Broadway Choreographer (Toby Sedgwick, nominee)
In Popular Culture 
Saturday Night Live spoofed "War Horse" on an episode aired December 17, 2011. The sketch features a British couple (played by Bill Hader and Kristen Wiig) attending a regional production of "War Horse." Instead of a life-size horse puppet, the role of Joey is played by host Jimmy Fallon, who cavorts around the stage, slapping his legs in an imitation of hoofbeats, neighing, and eventually robot dancing. In Act 2, the role of Albert is played by a hand puppet operated by Kenan Thompson, who eventually declares, "You're not just a War Horse, Joey! You're a Friend Horse!"
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- Itzkoff, Dave (20 December 2010). "‘War Horse’ Corrals Its American Cast". The New York Times. Retrieved 14 March 2011.
- Official London Theatre Guide: War Horse[dead link]
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- "Lincoln Center's New Season Is 'Women on the Verge', 'A Free Man of Color' and 'War Horse'". Playbill. 10 February 2010.
- Staff writer (2 July 2009). "Theatre Interview with Kit Harington – The 22-Year-Old Stars in War Horse at the New London Theatre". thelondonpaper. Accessed 20 January 2010.
- "PHOTO CALL: Puppet-Heavy 'War Horse' Rides in London" playbill.com
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- Handspring Puppet Company": 2007 Awards[dead link]
- "The Queen’s secret trip to theatre stuns audience", thisislondon.co.uk
- "The Times". Entertainment.timesonline.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-08-29.
- Shenton, Mark. "Nicola Stephenson and Patrick Robinson Join Cast of West End's War Horse", playbill.com, 1 March 2011.
- BBC: "War Horse play gets Broadway run" bbc.co.uk, BBC.
- Lincoln Center Theater, "War Horse"; retrieved 10 March 2011.
- " 'War Horse' To Gallop On Indefinitely at Lincoln Center" New York Times, 15 April 2011
- Internatonal Hit War Horse Ends Broadway Run Jan. 6; Toronto Production Also Closes Playbill, 6 January, 2013
- "Tony-Winning War Horse Assembles Cast for 2012 Toronto Debut". Playbill. Retrieved 2012-03-13.
- Internatonal Hit War Horse Ends Broadway Run Jan. 6; Toronto Production Also Closes Playbill, 6 January, 2013
- Culture Monster (15 March 2011). "Ahmanson Theatre's 2011–12 season to include 'War Horse' and new 'Funny Girl' revival". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved 16 April 2011.
- "War Horse Announces Preliminary Stops for 20-City National Tour". Playbill. Retrieved 2012-03-13.
- Hetrick, Adam (9 May 2011). "'The Caretaker With Jonathan Pryce', 'War Horse', 'Bring It On!' to Play San Francisco". Playbill. Retrieved 9 May 2011.
- "WAR HORSE to Launch National Tour and Toronto Production in 2012!". Broadwayworld.com. 11 May 2011. Retrieved 2012-03-13.
- "National Tour of War Horse to Feature Andrew Veenstra, Todd Cerveris and Angela Reed". Playbill.com. Retrieved 2012-08-29.
- "War Horse on Stage". warhorseonstage.com. Retrieved 2013-02-10.
- "Official International Site | UK Tour". War Horse on Stage. Retrieved 2012-08-29.
- "Official International Site | Berlin". War Horse on Stage. Retrieved 2012-08-29.
- "Cast Revealed For Spielberg’s War Horse, Lead Role Goes Elsewhere". The Film Stage. 17 June 2010. Retrieved 17 June 2010.
- Morpurgo, Michael. "How my War Horse won its spurs with Steven Spielberg," Daily Mail (UK). 23 February 2011.
- Billington, Michael."War Horse", The Guardian, 18 October 2007, accessed 2 April 2011.
- Spencer, Charles. "War Horse: Horse play is no puppet show", The Telegraph, 18 October 2007.
- "A ten-year-old's take on War Horse at the New London Theatre", The Sunday Times, 22 May 2009
- Brantley, Ben."Theater Review:A Boy and His Steed, Far From Humane Society" The New York Times, 2011.
- "War Horse (2011)". Entertainment Weekly. 15 April 2011. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
- Zoglin, Richard. "The Best of 2011: Theater", Time magazine, 19 December 2011 issue, p. 77
- Teachout, Terry (15 April 2011). "Manipulated Puppets, Manipulated Tears". The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved 15 April 2011.
- "War Horse". Curtain Critic. Retrieved 28 June 2012.
- "Evening Standard nominations – 2007". Holidayextras.co.uk. Retrieved 2012-08-29.
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- "Book of Mormon, Priscilla, Sister Act, War Horse, Good People and More Are Drama League Nominees". Playbill. Retrieved 25 April 2011.
- "Winners List – All Categories". Tony Awards. Retrieved 14 June 2011.
- Gans, Andrew."Outer Critics Circle Nominees Include 'Sister Act', 'Anything Goes', 'Book of Mormon' " playbill.com, 26 April 2011
- Gans, Andrews. "'War Horse', 'Book of Mormon', 'Other Desert Cities', 'The Kid' Are Outer Critics Circle Winners" playbill.com, 16 May 2011
- Broadway.com Staff (27 April 2011). "Catch Me If You Can, Daniel Radcliffe, Sutton Foster & More Earn Astaire Award Nominations". Broadway.com. Retrieved 27 April 2011.
- "Saturday Night Live Transcripts".
- War Horse information page at the New London Theatre
- War Horse Broadway listing at the Vivian Beaumont Theater
- War Horse at the Internet Broadway Database
- Video: Talk by Handspring Puppet Company at TED on 1 March 2011 about the War Horse puppet
- Video: "The making of War Horse – projection and animation" by 59 Productions