This year the awarding winning play War Horse will make its debut at the Liverpool Empire Theatre from November 15 – December 2 as part of the Second UK National Tour. I reviewed War Horse in 2015 when it was playing at the West End and I called it “moving, emotional and highly poignant.” While the play will open at the end of the year, fans of the show and book were treated to a special preview event on February 2 at the Empire Theatre that included a demonstration of the life-sized puppet of the main horse Joey.
The Liverpool Echo reported that Matthew Forbes, one of the production’s puppetry directors, brought the horse to the city and explained to the audience how it worked. The life-size puppet is made of cane, leather, and tyvec (a material used in book binding) and was designed by South African puppeteers Handspring Puppet Company. The audience was shown how the puppet is moved by three actors who are split between the head, heart, and hind, and work together to create Joey’s movement, communication sounds, and breathing. The puppet is reinforced with aluminium, as the puppet is required to be ridden during the play.
The original novel was written by Michael Morpurgo in 1982 and tells the story of World War 1 through the eyes of Joey. The novel is seen as one of the most important children’s novels about the First World War. War Horse was first adapted for the stage in 2007 and won numerous accolades including Laurence Oliver Awards and the 2011 Tony Award for Best Play. In 2011 the novel was made into a film directed by Steven Spielberg and staring Benedict Cumberbatch and Tom Hiddleston. The film was nominated for Best Picture the following year.
The Second UK National Tour will start in September 2017 and continue into 2018 to mark the 100-year anniversary since the end of the First World War. The role of horses during the war has been examined in many mediums and exhibitions over the years. One example is the The Grand National Guide who wrote an article about horses during the war and the state of horse racing. The site noted that despite many horses being used in the war, events such as the Cheltenham Festival went ahead even though they faced numerous difficulties. Today, the Cheltenham Festival continues to play a huge part in Britain’s equine heritage and is considered one of the most prestigious events of the year, according to horse racing website Betfair, who also preview events such as the esteemed Grand National.
For those who haven’t seen War Horse this is a perfect time to not only see an important piece of World War 1 literature brought to the stage, but also acknowledge the loss of life, as we come to mark a century since the war ended.