War Horse: Joey gallops into town

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THERE is a moment in War Horse, which sees Joey thundering on stage. It’s a powerful sight and one that dispels any misconceptions that might be held about the truth that can be created through puppetry.

Yes, there are three people - a hind, a heart and a head - required to bring this impressive beast to life, but in that moment, as he gallops across the stage, they are invisible. What you see is a stallion in all his glory.

War Horse theatre production. Pic: Comp

War Horse theatre production. Pic: Comp

Quite simply, it’s theatrical magic.

The National Theatre’s award-winning production opens at the Festival Theatre tomorrow, for a three-week season. It’s a long- awaited Scottish premiere, and one that sold out a good ten days before opening, house-full signs no doubt being dusted off as I write.

The success of War Horse should come as little surprise. It is a heartwarming tale. Feel good theatre at its best. Based on the novel by Michael Morpurgo, War Horse is the story of a boy called Albert and his horse, Joey, who has been requisitioned to fight for the British in World War I.

Caught in enemy crossfire, Joey ends up serving on both sides before ending up in No Man’s Land. Meanwhile, Albert, not old enough to enlist, embarks on a treacherous mission to find his horse and bring him home.

Having sold out its 31 performances in the Capital, War Horse is the Festival Theatre’s highest grossing show in its 20- year history, taking in excess of £2 milllion at the box office.

Yet recalling the origins of the piece, Tom Morris, co-director of the original National Theatre production admits, “It was an experimental show, and with experimental work you expect to make some audiences happy... maybe get some nice reviews... and to hang around for a couple of months.

“We had absolutely no idea it would become what it is today. It was so outside the bounds of possibility that we didn’t talk about it. So it’s still baffling to any of us that it’s running as a long-running show.”

War Horse premiered in London’s Olivier Theatre on 9 October 2007, playing for 92 performances. It returned to the National Theatre for a second run in 2008, this time clocking up 114 performances before transferring to the West End.

More than two million people have seen War Horse in London, with a further 4.6 million seeing productions as far afield as Australia and on Broadway, where it won five Tony Awards. There’s also a German language production called Gerfärhten in Berlin, which will be joined this June by a Dutch language version in Amsterdam.

But first, it’s Edinburgh’s turn.

Duncan Hendry, chief executive of the Festival City Theatres Trust, says, “We are absolutely thrilled to be welcoming War Horse to the Festival Theatre at the start of our 20th anniversary celebrations. Demand for tickets has been phenomenal and it’s wonderful to have sold every ticket well before the opening night.”

For those yet to secure a ticket, the Festival Theatre’s box office advises you should follow their twitter feed (@edtheatres) and Facebook account for details of returns. There will also be an on-the-night returns queue during the run of the show.

If all that fails, at 7pm, on 27 February, the National Theatre will broadcast the West End production into cinemas across the Capital, including Vue Ocean Terminal, the Cameo on Home Street, the Odeon Lothian Road and Musselburgh’s Brunton Theatre.

War Horse, Festival Theatre, Nicolson Street, Wednesday-15 February, 7.30pm (matinees 2.30pm), SOLD OUT (returns only), 0131-529 6000

AT THE GALLOP: WAR HORSE IN NUMBERS

8 months - The time it takes to build a complete set of puppets for War Horse

14 - How many craftsmen and women it takes to make them by hand

50.7 kilos - The weight of one horse puppet

23 - That’s how many puppets there are in War Horse, including horses, a goose, two swallows and two crows

2 hr 40 min (approx) - War Horse’s running time including one interval

850+ - People who have been employed world-wide on War Horse

24 - Awards War Horse has won

250 - Costumes for each performance

150 - Pairs of footwear are worn

34 - Actors on stage

11 - Articulated trucks to transport set

40 - Radio mics

110 - Speakers

170 - Lights (including 50 moving lights)

9 - Projectors to create scenes