War Horse | National Theatre of Great BritainPhotos – David Wyatt


It may have taken awhile, but the epic production of War Horse has finally made it to Australia, with its premiere in Melbourne on New Year's eve.

Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo and adapted by Nick Stafford, this production first opened in London to a sell-out season in 2007. It returned the following year and is still running. The current Broadway production closes soon, after over 18 months of capacity attendences at Lincoln Centre. Melbourne audiences were originally going to experience the phenomenon a year ago, but the release of the film version saw the tour put on hold.

Britain's National Theatre had the original vision to adapt this work for the stage, collaborating with South Africa's Handspring Puppet Company to create something that would engage and excite audiences young and old.

Beginning in Devon in 1912, a bond is formed between a young farm boy (Albert) and a foal who becomes known as Joey. As World War I begins, the horse is sold to the British army, and taken into battle in France.

When Albert discovers that the Major who was looking after Joey is killed, he determines to find his beloved animal and enlists at the young age of 16.

Morpurgo's story and Stafford's script not only descriptively and effectively recounts the horrors of war, but tells this remarkable story largely through the eyes of Joey the horse.

Using life-size puppets, one soon forgets the human operators, as the company takes the audience on a journey that is not only imaginatively realised but magnificently created. The moment of transition from young Joey into the adult Joey almost takes your breath away. There are many more such theatrical delights. The design and soundscapes are exceptional.

The humans in this story are all played by actors who perform admirably, most notably Cody Fern in the demanding role of Albert, Natasha Herbert and Ian Bliss as his parents, Nicholas Bell as the Uncle, Andrew Tighe as a German officer and Andre De Vanny as Private David Taylor.

But it is the remarkable talents of the performers playing the horses (especially Joey and Topthorn) as well as a scene-stealing goose that have to be particularly acknowledged. Such is the attention to these great animal characters that performers' roles are credited as Head, Heart or Hind.

It is difficult to experience this thrilling piece of theatre and not be amazed and incredibly moved by the amazing landmark made by War Horse on the theatrical landscape.

My only reservation is that unlike the British and New York productions, Australian audiences do not have the opportunity to enjoy the performance in a more intimate theatre. The vast State Theatre does limit some of the breathtaking moments, especially for those sitting further away.

But beyond this, the all Australian company of performers and artists under the direction of Drew Barr have re-created a production that will live long in the memory of anyone who sees it.

The National Theatre of Great Britain and Global Creatures present
War Horse
based on the book by Michael Morpurgo | adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford

Director Drew Barr

Venue: Arts Centre Melbourne, State Theatre
Previews: Sunday, 23 December to Sunday, 30 December 2012
Opening Night: Monday, 31 December 2012
Dates: Wednesday 2 January, 2013 – Sunday 3 March, 2013
Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au | 1300 182 183 | www.ticketmaster.com.au | 136 100
Visit: www.warhorseaustralia.com

Most read Melbourne reviews

Master of the deadpan, harsh host of Hard Quiz, and heartless interrogator on Hard Chat, making...

It doesn’t matter how much you know or care about the legality of the Essendon Football Club...

If you’re looking for a show that’s completely different and unlike anything you’ve seen in...

For fans of the musical, the problems and changes to the book and plot of Chess are as familiar...

Swapping 16th Century Verona for 1930s Hollywood, and a lengthy title for the short and snappy...