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War Horse

The National Theatre of Great Britain and Global Creatures present WAR HORSE, based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, adapted by Nick Stafford, at the Lyric Theatre, Star Casino, Sydney.

I saw WAR HORSE in London in January, 2010 (please read the earlier blog as well – for a fuller appreciation, of this great work).

WAR HORSE from the National Theatre of Great Britain is a shining example of what is possible when a theatre organisation has clear and broad concepts of what a theatre company can do for its community. WAR HORSE was building on the success of, among others, HIS DARK MATERIALS and CORAM BOY, previous holiday shows for young adult audiences. When one is re-acquainted with the scale of this wonderful production, the remarkable collaboration of the directors,(especially) designers, writers, actors, musicians, stage management, and of course the puppeteers; and, further, consider the long development plan of over 18 months, when they improvised and experimented with all the elements for the final physical (and spiritual) production, the shadow of comparison of the will and input of the major Australian companies, to produce work of such scale, is a deep and dark one indeed. (Belvoir’s recent  productions for children, THE BOOK OF EVERYTHING and PETER PAN, were of some note – if extremely modest in design ambitions – their space an obstacle, no doubt). The National Theatre kind of visionary scale for the magic of the theatre, is not even embraced by the Australian companies for their present adult audiences – remember the STC’s PYGMALION – let alone for their future audiences, the young.

I sat with young Sydney (Australian) children, adolescents and other adults, in the Lyric Theatre, (at a casino !!!) and could imagine the mighty impact such thoughtfully wrought, generously conceived and thrilling theatrical gestures were having on the lucky attendants. That they were in a state of awe and wept cathartically to the journey of Joey (and Albert) and Topthorn was able to be witnessed about me in abundance. They will never forget the few hours spent with this National Theatre production of WAR HORSE. Undoubtedly, a landmark memory for most.

This company is made up, fully, of  Australian artists, directed by Drew Barr. The play itself, since I saw it in London, as had some adaptations, trimmings, changes textually and production-wise, but is essentially – if not quite as affecting – the same one I saw in the New London Theatre (it is still playing there – nearly four years later!!!). The stage here seems to be narrower (Sydney’s largest?) and some of the spectacle is slightly squashed – the cavalry charge, for instance (or, is it just my fertile memory, deceiving me?). The art, video work was much more astonishingly apparent at this experience: Rae Smith. Leo Warner, Mark Grimmer and Lysander Ashton for 59 Productions.

The Australian actors generally account for the play well, if there seems to be an odd sense of a ‘declamatory’ acting style – a shouting vaguely across the void, instead of directing, actually talking, and more importantly, affecting, wanting to communicate and change the person, persons, to whom they are playing with. Whether it is the inexperience that the company of actors have to playing at such scale , or otherwise – tell me of a recent Australian production that demanded such skill or practice – or not, is a question I am still pondering. In what is essentially a company storytelling style – Brechtian, in a presentational kind, rather than in deep characterisations – I was left with good impressions by James Bell, Cody Fern, Natasha Herbert and Andrew Tighe.

My first professional theatre experience was of a musical, OLIVER (I remember, Tony Sheldon [Oliver], Toni Lammond [Nancy] and Andrew Sharp [the Artful Dodger]) at the old Theatre Royal in Castlereagh Street, with its billowing red velvet curtain. I had spent some of my university scholarship money -17 shillings and sixpence for a stalls seat – (mum was not happy) and skipped some lecture to see it (I didn’t tell her that!). I saw it as a young adult (17) at a Wednesday matinee, ran home, and got some more money to see it again, that evening (I didn’t tell mum straight away) – I was captured by the muses and have been entranced ever since, looking and hoping for a repeat of one of the great moments in my life. I have had them again, of course, and WAR HORSE is one of the more recent one’s. I am certain that some of the young ones seeing WAR HORSE, will similarly be infected with the need to go to the theatre again. This magnificent production by the National Theatre is, undoubtedly, a canny investment in the development of future audiences. For sure.

If you have not seen it, if you have not taken your beloved children, then, you will have missed a gift that would be, in my estimation, one of the ‘wealthiest’ gifts you could have given, both yourself and your loved ones. A creation that explores the possibilities of theatre making in its most imaginative and human dimensions. Storytelling that affects the heart and the conscience.

A few weeks left in Sydney, before going on to Brisbane.

P.S. The film by Steven Spielberg is a dismal experience in comparison to the live event, I can assure you.