War Horse to Premiere in Melbourne

War Horse to Premiere in Melbourne

Puppets have come a long way since The Muppets, and if today’s media launch (April 18, 2012) at Arts Centre Melbourne is any measure, War Horse will be the talk of the town when it takes the stage this summer. Lucy Graham was there to meet the star of the show.

Puppets? Taking Melbourne by storm? You can’t be serious.


At the Arts Centre Melbourne this morning the media were introduced to the star of War Horse, a true-to life puppet called Joey, and the three puppeteers that bring him to life.

This is no ordinary puppet. Crafted from cane and stretched georgette, Joey is manipulated by three puppeteers: one at the head, one at the heart, one at the hind. Strong enough to be ridden, Joey is semi transparent and a little ghostly. But his spooky appearance was not what had the media pack literally gasping when he made his entrance this morning.

Passers-by in St Kilda Road stood entranced as Joey stood beside a flesh-and-blood horse called Charlie, in the bright sunshine on the Arts Centre lawn. Animal behaviourists have reportedly advised the creative team on how horses react and respond to various stimuli, right down to the pivoting ears, and tail twitches. The replication in Joey is remarkable, almost disconcerting.

Nick Stafford’s stage adaption of Micheal Morpurgo’s book War Horse, tells the story of Joey, the beloved horse of a boy called Albert, who is sold to the cavalry at the outbreak of World War 1. Shipped to France, Joey is caught up in enemy fire, and on both sides of the trenches. But Albert cannot forget Joey and sets out to find his horse and bring him home.

Critical acclaim to date includes two Laurence Olivier awards, five Tony’s, a special Tony for Handspring Puppets, and four outer critics awards.

Morpurgo says that in War Horse he set out to imagine what war looks like through the neutral eyes of an animal, and to highlight the universal suffering that is brought about by war.

The impact of the story is such that when Hollywood film director Stephen Spielberg saw the show in London, he made it into a film, which was in turn nominated for six Academy awards, two Golden Globes and 5 BAFTAs.

Associate Puppetry Director Finn Caldwell oversees some eighteen puppets and their puppeteers, including a goose, two swallows and two crows. Puppet materials include steel, leather and aircraft cables, and are the creations of Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones of Cape Town based, South African company, Handspring Puppets.

Sincepremiering at the National Theatre in London in 2007, War Horse has toured to New York and Toronto, and will play to Los Angeles beginning in June.  But in something of a coup the Melbourne production will be a local undertaking, thanks to the collaboration of National Theatre of Great Britain, Global Creatures, and Arts Centre Melbourne.

Angela Dalton, of Global Creatures said today that War Horse is “an international juggernaut” which is currently “outselling most musicals on Broadway, even though it’s a play”. It is, she said “a triumph of puppetry”, and “a story for everyone”.

As War Horse nears its 2 millionth theatre goer, it’s audience reads like a who’s who: The Queen, Prince Phillip and other members of the Royal family, Sarah Jessica Parker, Hugh Jackman, Kate Winslet, Alec Baldwin, Michael Caine, Ethan Hawke, Tommy Lee Jones, Annie Lennox, Helen Mirren, Miranda Richardson, Alan Rickman, Meg Ryan, Cate Blanchett, Diana Ross, Diane Keaton, Joan Rivers, John McEnroe, Sting, Madonna and a dozen other celebrities.

War Horse opened in Melbourne on 31st December, 2012.

Sydney and Brisbane dates now announced.

Lucy Graham interviews Puppetry Director Finn Caldwell

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The National Theatre of Great Britain and Global Creatures, in association with the Arts Centre, are proud to announce that Melbourne has secured the rights to stage the multiple Tony and Olivier Award- winning War Horse, for a season commencing in late 2012.

Admired by critics and audiences alike, War Horse will be staged at the Arts Centre’s State Theatre, opening in late 2012, with tickets going on sale in early 2012.

Premier Ted Baillieu said the announcement that Melbourne would stage War Horse confirmed Melbourne’s status as the theatre capital of Australia.

“It is a great honour for Melbourne to be chosen by the UK’s National Theatre to host the Australian premiere season of what is from all accounts a truly impressive theatre production,” Mr Baillieu said.

“Melbourne is the best place to enjoy this award-winning and highly innovative production and I am sure many Victorians and visitors will flock to Melbourne’s Arts Centre to relish its delights.

“Melbourne’s and Victoria’s reputation as a world centre for theatre will be further enhanced by the War Horse partnership between the Victorian Major Events Company, the Arts Centre, Australian producers Global Creatures and the National Theatre.

“Productions such as War Horse bring jobs and investment and help to reinforce Melbourne’s status as one of the world’s most liveable cities,” Mr Baillieu said.

Since its world premiere in London in 2007, War Horse has won numerous prestigious awards including two Laurence Olivier Awards, five Tony Awards and four Outer Critics’ Circle Awards amongst a host of others. The Handspring Puppet Company has also won many accolades including a 2011 Special Tony Award.

Nick Stafford’s stage adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s book, War Horse is a magnificent drama which tells the heart wrenching story of Joey, the beloved horse of a boy called Albert, who is sold to the cavalry at the outbreak of World War I and shipped to France. He’s soon caught up in enemy fire, and fate takes him on an extraordinary odyssey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone in no man’s land. But Albert cannot forget Joey and, still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find him and bring him home.

At its heart are astonishing life-size puppets strong enough for men to ride, created by South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, who bring breathing, galloping, charging horses to life on the stage. Life size horses traverse the stage, their flanks, hides and sinews built of steel, leather and aircraft cables.            Actors, working with these astonishing, life-sized puppets, will lead Australian audiences on an emotionally-charged journey through history.

War Horse has played to packed houses at London’s National Theatre, the West End’s New London Theatre and New York’s Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Centre. A further production is due to open in February 2012 in Toronto, Canada with a US tour scheduled to start in Los Angeles in June 2012. Steven Spielberg’s new movie adaptation of Michael Morpurgo’s novel will be released by DreamWorks Studios in late 2011.

“War Horse is a life affirming story about friendship, courage and family, which appeals to all ages. This is a production that brings the family together, we get people coming back again and again, and they always have the same reaction. It awakens something in you” says Chris Harper, Producer, National Theatre of Great Britain.

“The ANZAC spirit is deeply entrenched in the Australian ethos. We expect War Horse to have a great resonance in this country not only because of our connection to World War I but because themes of the land, loss and the ultimate triumph of friendship have a special place in the Australian psyche. We are proud to be bringing this highly acclaimed show to Australia in a co-production with the National Theatre.” says Carmen Pavlovic, CEO of Global Creatures.

Directed by Marianne Elliott and Tom Morris, War Horse is designed by Rae Smith, with puppet design and fabrication by Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler for Handspring Puppet Company, lighting by Paule Constable, and movement and horse choreography by Toby Sedgwick; the puppetry directors are Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler, with video design by Leo Warner and Mark Grimmer, songmaker John Tams, music by Adrian Sutton and sound by Christopher Shutt.

Facts and Figures

War Horse received its World Premiere at the National Theatre on 9 October 2007 and played in the Olivier for 92 performances until 14 February 2008 and was seen by over 104,000 people.

War Horse returned to the National Theatre for a second run playing from 10 September 2008 – 18 March 2009 for a total of 114 performances and was seen by a further 130,000 people.

War Horse transferred to the West End in 2009 with its first performance at the New London Theatre on 28 March 2009. War Horse is currently booking until 27 October 2012 at the New London Theatre.

In February 2011 the 1 millionth patron to see the production in London met with writer Michael Morpurgo and was photographed with horses Joey and Topthorn.

War Horse has been seen by The Queen, Prince Phillip, Princess Anne, Prince William and Prince Harry as well as other famous faces including Michael Caine, Rupert Everett, Ethan Hawke, James Earl Jones, Tommy Lee Jones, Keira Knightley, Annie Lennox, Ian McKellen, Helen Mirren, Miranda Richardson, Alan Rickman, Meg Ryan, Will Smith, Steven Spielberg, Hilary Swank, Alec Baldwin, Natalie Portman, Cate Blanchett, Susan Sarandon, Sharon Stone, Diana Ross, Diane Keaton, William Shatner, Barbara Walters, Hugh Jackman, Ricki Lake, Kate Winslet, George Lucas, Blythe Danner, Joan Rivers, John McEnroe, Queen Latifah, Martin Sheen, Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Billy Crystal, Sting, Madonna, Guy Ritchie, Angela Lansbury and Elaine Stritch.

The New York production of War Horse opened on 14 April 2011 at the Vivian Beaumont Theater at Lincoln Center.

A further production is due to open in February 2012 at the Princess of Wales Theatre, Toronto, with a US tour scheduled to start in Los Angeles in June 2012.

The puppets in War Horse were created by Adrian Kohler and Basil Jones of South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, based in Cape Town. They are made of cane and stretched georgette and are operated by puppeteers.

War Horse has 18 puppets, including horses Joey and Topthorn, as well as a goose, two swallows and two crows.

Suitable for 10 years plus.


Production Images: London Cast by Brinkhoff-Mogenburg

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