The National Theatre’s award-winning production of War Horse galloped into its sixth successful year in London last night as former members of the cast and the show’s creative team gathered with special guests at the New London theatre to celebrate its fifth anniversary.
Since premiering at the acclaimed Southbank venue in 2007, Michael Morpurgo’s World War I-set drama has won two Olivier Awards, been made into a blockbuster film by Steven Spielberg and been seen on stage by more than 1.6 million people in London, including the Queen.
Described by Morpurgo as “a story of reconciliation [and] an anthem of peace”, War Horse tells the touching story of Joey, a horse raised by young Albert Narcott in a west country village, who is sold to the cavalry at the onset of World War I. Told from a neutral viewpoint, the story charts Joey’s journey through France as he fights for both sides of the conflict, while Albert, desperate to be reunited with his beloved equine friend, embarks on a dangerous mission to bring him home.
Featuring magnificent puppets created by the Cape Town-based Handspring Puppet Company, the production has certainly come a long way since its early days in the National Theatre studio, where experiments for the show consisted of a few actors and a ladder playing a horse, and has since trotted on to Broadway, leapt over to Toronto and begun a journey around North America.
Talking about the reasons for the show’s success, comedian and television personality David Baddiel, who saw War Horse on stage for the first time last night, said: “It’s a really moving story combined with the most extraordinary technical quality, which makes you really believe in the puppet, you believe in the puppet in a way that is so unusual and works on both an adult and a child’s level.”
Co-director of the show Marianne Elliot said: “We can’t believe that War Horse is celebrating its fifth anniversary. We are so proud of our show. It was a huge team that made it happen, much bigger than any of the teams either of us have worked with before or since. What we ended up with was something far greater than any one of us could have ever imagined.”
The hugely successful production clearly has a stable future ahead of it too, with productions in Australia and Berlin as well as a tour of the UK scheduled to take place within the next 12 months.
Speaking about the forthcoming German language production, of which the author is particularly proud, Morpurgo said: “I was in Berlin the other day and talking to the Germans who are going to put it on and adapt it and it was quite extraordinary to walk around those streets and to imagine that, 100 years before, those marching feet, those trotting horses had gone off just as they’d gone off from London and Paris and here we were bringing a play to Berlin which is about reconciliation.”
As 2014 approaches and the 100th anniversary of the conflict looms, he says: “The play has found its moment and found its time”. Following last night’s anniversary performance, it looks like War Horse will continue to ‘rein’ in London, and all over the world, for a long time to come.