War Horse and its Origins-Kimberly Lamping

The advanced puppetry used in War Horse was highly realistic and successful.

The advanced puppetry used in War Horse was highly realistic and successful.

War Horse-Origins

War Horse is a play during World War One that originated from Mr. Morpurgo’s novel in 1982. Morpurgo’s novels “tend to be set all around the world, focus on some favorite themes: humans’ extraordinary bond with animals, children’s courage in adversity, and the power and wonder of nature” (Lyall). War Horse tells the story of a young boy’s (Albert) love for his horse (Joey) that his father foolishly bought at an auction during World War I in England. Albert’s father sells Joey to the army and Albert ends up running away to find his beloved horse. The play describes the horrors that Joey and Albert go through and their journey to find each other. Despite many doubts, War Horse became a successful play. Through its advanced and highly realistic use of puppetry, War Horse was able to convert the novel into a successful Broadway production.

War Horse the play (adapted for stage by Nick Stafford) is based on the book, War Horse, by acclaimed children’s writer Michael Morpurgo. Published in 1982, “the book was a “huge nonevent” at the time, according to its author, Michael Morpurgo”. That all changed in 2007, when a “dramatic version of “War Horse” opened at the National Theater. Starring, as the horses, life-size puppets created by the Handspring Puppet Company of South Africa, the play was a huge, emotional triumph, leaving audiences wrung out and weeping” (Lyall). Originally Morpurgo thought “they must be mad” to try to make a play from his 1982 novel (Wikipedia). Morpurgo had “doubts about whether “War Horse” would work onstage. When he first heard of the plans to use puppets, he said, he thought it sounded disastrous, “like a joke.” But he calmed down when he saw the result: life-size puppets that move, whinny, startle and nuzzle so much like real horses, they seem to be fully realized characters” (Lyall).

http://nyti.ms/1fuujFP (Here is a short clip of War Horse where you can get a glimpse of the puppetry used).

The show premiered on 17 October 2007 in the Olivier Theatre at the National Theatre on the South Bank, London, on a run that ended on 14 February 2008. It returned for a second run on 10 September 2008, and closed on 18 March 2009. As a co-production of the National Theatre and Lincoln Center, War Horse began preview performances at the Vivian Beaumont Theater in New York City on 15 March 2011, and opened on Broadway 14 April. The production was only scheduled to have a limited run, closing on 26 June 2011, but soon became open-ended after strong critical reception and ticket sales. The production received five Tony Awards at the 2011 ceremony, including Best Play. War Horse closed on January 6, 2013, after 718 performances and 33 previews.

Despite all odds, War Horse was made into a very successful stage adaptation through the use of advanced puppetry. The puppetry in War Horse was so realistic, that the horses became characters even though they never said anything and were not real horses. Plays like War Horse continue to push the boundaries of theatre is able to produce.


“War Horse (play).” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 11 Feb. 2013. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.

Lyall, Sarah. “Undaunted Author of ‘War Horse’ Reflects on Unlikely Hit.” New York Times 11 Apr. 2011: 1. New York Times. Web. 10 Nov. 2013.


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