City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

City Guide to Edinburgh, Scotland

War Horse, EFT, Review

By Irene Brown - Posted on 23 January 2014

Scene from War Horse
Show Details
National Theatre in association with Handspring Puppet Company
Handspring Puppet Company (puppetry), Marianne Elliopp and Tom Morris (directors), Rae Smith (designer/drawings) Nick Stafford (adapter), Michael Morpurgo (writer)Ellie Kurttz (photographer) Paule Constable (lighting) Christopher Shutt(sound), Toby Sedgwick (movement and horse choreography) Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler (puppetry directors) Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer for 59 Productions Ltd(video design) Adrian Sutton (music), John Tams (songmaker)
Horses: Rebecca Killick, Alex Moran, Helen MacFarlane (Joey as a foal), Thomas Gilbey orRichard Vorster or Shaun McKee (Joey head), Michael Humpreys or John Leader or Tom Norman ((Joey heart), Andrew Keay or Tom Larkin or Suzanne Nixon (Joey hind), Oliver Grant or Richard Vorster or Shaun McKee(Tophorn head), Joe Darke or John Leader or Tom Norman(Tophorn heart), Linford Johnson or Tom Larkin or Suzanne Nixon(Tophorn hind), Joe Darke or Michael Humpreys or John Leader or Andrew Keay (Coco heart), Linford Johnson or Andrew Keay or Tom Larkin or Suzanne Nixon(Coco hind), Peter Twose and Richard Vorster (Double Head) Joseph Richardson (Goose/bugle/Schnagel)) James Alper (Captain Stewart/Ludwig), Lee Armstrong (Albert Narracott), Peer Ash (Billy Narracott/Unteroffizier Klebb), Emily Aston (Paulette), Nisa Cole (Emilie), David Fleeshman(Arthur Narracott), Adam Foster (Thomas Bone/Sergeant Fine), Bob Fox (songman), Jason Furnival (Chapman Carter/Colonel Strauss), Finn Hanlon (Captain Nicholls/ Dr Schweyk), Karl Haynes (John Greig /Vet Officer Martin), Karen Henthorn (Rose Narracott), Steve Hillman (Ted Narracott), Rebecca Killick (Nurse Annie Gilbert), Helen MacFarlane (Matron Callaghan), Sean McKenzie (Priest/Sergeant Thunder), Alex Moran (David Taylor), Joseph Richardson (Johann Schnabel/Sentry Shaw), Paul Simpson (Klausen), Gavin Swift (Geordie), Simeon Truby (Sergeant Allen/Soldat Manfred), Martin Wenner (Hauptmann Friedrich Müller)
Running time: 

From fragile foal to stalwart steed, War Horse takes us on a moving journey showing the bond of love and loyalty between a boy and his horse.

This multi-award winning show that premiered in 2007 is based on the novel by former children’s laureate, Michael Morpurgo. The personal tale of young Devonshire lad, Albert Narracott (Lee Armstrong), and his close relationship with his belovèd horse, Joey, that he has trained since a foal, is set against the horrors of the First World War.

When the recruiting officers come calling with the fatal words “Fear God. Honour the King” and offering the said King’s shilling, Albert is too young to enlist, but Joey is commandeered to serve.

Starting off on the British side, Joey ends up with the Germans. Meanwhile young Albert, like so many others, lies about his age and signs up so he can be reunited with Joey.

By the nature of Morpurgo’s benign view of life and his text having been written for children, the harsh and crude edges of the realities of war, while not ignored, are smoothed out and shown in an acceptable light. As a small example, the cussing of Sergeant Thunder (Sean McKenzie) at his troops only goes as far as ‘effing’, a polite consideration unlikely to be given by such a man in real life.

However, while the story itself is light and worthy, it is the strength of the puppetry from South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company and the breath-taking graphics from designer Rae Smith that lift the piece to the unique.

A white gash of jagged sky like a giant piece of blotting paper serves as the backdrop to the drawings that shift from the gentle sketches by Captain Nicholls (Finn Hanlon) of quiet Devon country life to the deafening explosions of shell on a foreign field.

It represents the bit of page torn from the soldier’s sketchbook by Albert that had been sent to him after the Captain’s death. That shred of paper held an image of Joey that Albert carried with him as another would have carried a sweetheart’s love letter.

Rae Smith’s work is aimed at the ‘poetic’ rather than ‘documentary realism’ and it achieves that aim in spades. Her imagery of the destruction is influenced by the early 20th century art movement Vorticism; her movement drawings of Joey by photographer Eadweard Muybridge and the effect is astounding. They are brilliantly realised thanks to the video skills of Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer for 59 Productions Ltd.

The strong team of puppeteers bring vitality to these life size puppets to a degree where disbelief is easily suspended. Their presence is necessarily visible but with the puppeteers mastery they become essentially invisible not just because of the beautifully blending colours of their costumes but because of their supreme mastery of their craft.

From the stiff-legged, innocent foal born in the innocent time of 1912, whose nervous breathing is practically palpable, to the spirited beast that Albert rides over the Devon fields, Joey is thoroughly alive on stage.

Equally, the birds, and especially the comical goose (Joseph Richardson), though clearly mechanical take on a life of their own thanks to their clever manipulators.

The colossal amount of costumes required for the 34-strong cast are sourced and made with sensitivity for the piece. For example, the officers’ uniforms were made in London from fabric made in Yorkshire and the British soldiers’ uniforms were made in Pakistan in the factory that made the original WW1 uniforms. And of course the ensemble cast brings its own strength in scenes like the vividly created sea crossing and at the start of the war when new recruits chillingly see their future before them crushed and limping towards a white light.

With the problem French and German having to be expressed somehow in English, there is an unavoidable tipping in to ‘Allo ‘Allo mode that creates some humour.

North East English folk singer Bob Fox adds poignancy as the singing narrator between scenes with traditional sounding songs accompanied at times with his squeeze box. The old Boer war song Goodbye Dolly Gray weaves its way through the piece, tugging at the heart strings with every line.

Michael Morpurgo describes this work as an ‘anthem of peace’ which is especially fitting in this commemoration year of the World War 1 whose atrocities made ‘countless thousands mourn’. This is the only theatre of war people should be watching.

Edinburgh is the only Scottish date in this year’s UK and Irish tour of War Horse, following Joey’s guest appearances at the Royal Edinburgh Military Tattoo in August 2013.

Show times

Wed 22 January to Sat 15 February 2014

Evenings 7.30pm | Matinees Thu & Sat 2.30pm

Age recommend 10+


Premium seats up to £65 | General Tickets £50 - £20*

War Horse is sold out. Here's the press release:

"War Horse, the National Theatre smash hit show, has officially sold out its 31 performance run at the Festival Theatre Edinburgh. Taking over £2M at the box office, War Horse is now the highest grossing show in the theatre’s 20 year history.

Duncan Hendry, Chief Executive of the Festival City Theatres Trust, which operates the Festival and King’s Theatres, commented on the tremendous response to the show, saying:“ We are absolutely thrilled to be welcoming War Horse to the Festival Theatre at the start of our 20th anniversary celebrations. Demand for tickets has been phenomenal and it’s wonderful to have sold every ticket well before the opening night.”

The Festival Theatre’s box office advises anyone looking to pick up returns to follow our twitter (@edtheatres) and facebook accounts. There will also be an on-the-night returns queue during the run of the show.

The National Theatre’s award-winning production of WAR HORSE comes to the Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, opening on Wednesday 22 January 2014, as part of its first major tour of the UK & Ireland. It’s the first show of the Spring / Summer season at the Festival Theatre, which celebrates its twentieth anniversary in 2014 and two decades of hosting the best in contemporary dance, ballet, opera and drama.

The record and box-office breaking run kicked off at the Theatre Royal Plymouth in September, where it was the fastest-selling show ever, and completely sold out its run at the Birmingham Hippodrome, where it was hailed by the Sunday Express as ‘a monumental once in a lifetime production’. After its Christmas run in Salford, War Horse plays for three and a half weeks in Edinburgh before continuing to Southampton, Dublin, Sunderland, Bradford and Cardiff, and back to Salford in the summer of 2014 due to unprecedented demand.

War Horse has been seen by over 4 million people worldwide since its premiere at the National Theatre in 2007 and continues its hugely successful run at the New London Theatre in the West End. A major tour of North America continues through 2013/14, and a new German language production entitled Gefährten opened in Berlin in October 2013.

War Horse is the powerful story of a young boy called Albert and his beloved horse, Joey, who has been requisitioned to fight for the British in World War I. Caught in enemy crossfire, Joey ends up serving on both sides during the war before landing in No Man’s Land, while Albert, not old enough to enlist, embarks on a treacherous mission to find his horse and bring him home. A remarkable tale of courage, loyalty and friendship, War Horse features ground-breaking puppetry work by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, which brings breathing and galloping horses to life on stage.

Based on a novel by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse is adapted by Nick Stafford and presented in association with Handspring Puppet Company. Directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, it is designed by Rae Smith, lighting is by Paule Constable and movement and horse choreography by Toby Sedgwick. The puppetry directors are Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler, with video design by 59 Productions Ltd, song-making by John Tams, music by Adrian Sutton and sound by Christopher Shutt. Alex Sims directs the tour with Katie Henry as associate director."