The eve of the New Year 2013 in Melbourne saw the Australian Premiere of the much-acclaimed drama War Horse. It’s no wonder that this play has received such high accolades. This production of War Horse is as unique a drama as Les Misérables is a musical.
Playing at the Arts Centre, Melbourne, where opera and ballet are normally presented on the enormous stage of the State Theatre it was a breathtaking experience watching full-sized mechanical horses romp and gallop across the stage and up and down the aisles of Melbourne’s grand opera house.
The puppeteers manipulating these giant beasts are simultaneously visible and invisible as your eyes and ears focus on the movements and sounds of the actors and the animals including a pesky goose and flocks of birds.
Put together with the set, sound and lighting design this production makes full use of modern technology, but still leaves room for your imagination to fill in the gaps. The set is minimal using props such as hand-held wooden poles and flats representing cottages. The sound effects though deafening at times is used to good effect and puts the audience in the middle of the battle along with the judicious use of projections that blend into the lighting and physical scenic design adding to the dramatic effect. The choice of English folk songs and wartime ballads help to move the story along and add poignancy and colour to the telling of the story. (It is interesting to note that the singing of “Goodbye Dolly Gray” didn’t stir Collingwood Football Club supporters who have adopted this tune as their club song.)
The positive reception of the audience was expected. War Horse takes place just prior to and for the course of WW I. Australia has an emotional as well as historical link to WW I because it was the first major event since Federation in 1901 to truly unify the nation and commence the formation of an Australian (not British) culture and society. ANZAC Day and Remembrance Day are two days that feature prominently on the Australian calendar. War Horse pays tribute to the men who fought and the horses that were sacrificed in the name of freedom and honour.
War Horse illustrates the brutality and senselessness of war and is a must see piece of theatre for high school students as well as adults.
War Horse – National Theatre of Great Britain production; by Michael Morpurgo; adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford. State Theatre, the Arts Centre – Melbourne, 2 January – 3 March 2013. Tour Dates: Sydney, 16 March – 30 June; Brisbane, 11 July – 4 August.
Cast: The People: James Bell, Nicholas Bell, Ian Bliss, Adam Booth, Mark Constable, Andre de Vanny, Mischana Dellora-Cornish, Dave Evans, Cody Fern, Natasha Herbert, Anna Houston, Belinda Jombwe, Rory Kelly, Drew Livingston, Dale March, Kenneth Moraleda, Emma Palmer, Gareth Reeves, John Thompson, Andrew Tighe, Karlis Zaid. The Horses: Nick Barlow, Kailah Cabanas, Michael Cullen, Nick Eaton, Grant Foulkes, Lincoln Hall, Keira Lyons, Ben McIvor, Sarah Nelson, John Shearman, Michael Wahr, Drew Wilson. Creative: Director – Marianne Elliot, Tom Morris; Puppet Direction, Design & Fabrication – Handspring Puppet Company; Designer/Drawings – Rae Smith; Lighting – Paule Constable; Director, Australian Production – Drew Barr; Associate Puppetry Director – Finn Cladwell; Sound Designer – Christopher Shutt; Video Design – Leo Warner & Mark Grimmer, 59 Productions Ltd; Producers – National Theatre of Great Britain, Global Creatures.