War Horse sells out Festival Theatre run

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HE stands 17 hands high, is the focus of the biggest show to visit the Capital in 2014, and has already taken in excess of £2 million at the Festival Theatre box office – just don’t call Joey a puppet. Joey is real, insist his producers.

The star of the National Theatre’s smash-hit production of War Horse, which has now officially sold out its 31 performances at the Festival Theatre, never travels without a team of minders, in his very own ‘horse box’ and even has a storage area known as his ‘stable’. Made of metal, cane, elastic and ­bicycle cables, the horse may be a feat of engineering but his handlers are charged with ensuring he is never seen as just his component parts, so as not to break the illusion.

Joey the horse delivers a truly life-like performance thanks to a tem of expert puppeteers. Picture: comp

Joey the horse delivers a truly life-like performance thanks to a tem of expert puppeteers. Picture: comp

Matthew Forbes, puppetry director, explained: “Joey is brought to life by three puppeteers – a Head, Heart and Hind – each with their own unique responsibilities.

“Our puppeteers have emotional and practical responsibilities while operating the horse – they must ensure that the horse looks, sounds and thinks like an animal.”

Joey, who recently enjoyed a private audience with the Queen, is the result of the ground-breaking work of South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, which brings him breathing, rearing and galloping on to the stage.

Mr Forbes said: “If the puppeteer is doing their job properly they almost become invisible. We never hide our puppeteers, however the control they use ensures the audience only watches the puppet.”

Based on Michael Morpurgo’s novel of the same name, War Horse tells the story of a young boy called Albert and his beloved horse, Joey, who has been requisitioned to fight for the British in the First World War.

Joey ends up serving on both sides before landing in No Man’s Land. Meanwhile, Albert, not yet old enough to enlist, embarks on a treacherous mission to bring his horse home.

The National Theatre’s award-winning production, which opens in the Capital next Wednesday, is already the highest grossing show in the Festival Theatre’s 20-year history.

Duncan Hendry, chief executive of the Festival City Theatres Trust, which operates the venue, said: “Hosting large-scale event theatre is a priority for us, and it’s a tremendous coup that one of the highest profile shows in this category has chosen the Festival Theatre for its only Scottish dates.

“Demand for tickets has been phenomenal and it’s wonderful to have sold every ticket well before the opening night.”

Chris Harper, producer of War Horse, said: “We are delighted audiences embraced the Scottish premiere of War Horse so wildly and are looking forward to bringing the now sold-out show to this magnificent theatre.”

• War Horse runs at the Festival Theatre, January 22 to February 15.