"War Horse" Front and Center on British Stage

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by Fran Jurga | 14 October 2007 | The Jurga Report

A play called "War Horse" is opening in London. It stars a puppet.

A play called "War Horse" is opening in London. It stars a puppet.

Ok, it's Sunday...what's in the papers? My favorite story today is from the Telegraph in England, where a new play opens at the National Theatre. "War Horse" is based on a children's book by Michael Morpurgo and the Telegraph serves up a great interview with the author.

In the book, an English horse named Joey is shipped to France to help the Brits win World War I, and the war is seen through his eyes. (That's a massive over-simplification, I know.) For a short moment in the play, there is peace in the middle of a war between men who cooperate to save a horse's life.

I know what you're thinking: Black Beauty meets The Red Badge of Courage. But wait a minute, it's more than that.

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Historians estimate that two million horses died in World War I. Farmers, huntsmen and hostlers sent their best and most beloved horses to fight the war, just as they went themselves, or sent their sons. The British soldiers who survived returned at the end of the war without their horses; they sold their "lucky" horses to French butchers, en masse, according to the author.

The theatrical production uses a giant puppet from the Handspring puppet troupe to tell the horse's tale; Joey towers over the humans on stage, in more ways than one.

Note: In the interview, the author recalls the inspiration for the book. An orphan child who had stopped speaking because of severe stuttering was in his equine therapy program. The author came into the barn one day and overhead the child chattering--without a stutter--to a horse.

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I've heard similar stories about a farrier who stutters badly when speaking to owners, but when left to shoe the horse, is often secretly overhead chatting amiably with the animal. When someone human comes up the barn aisle, the stutter returns.

The author runs a terrific charity called "Farms for City Children".