Coming to SA theatre

2014-04-23 00:00

WATCHING War Horse on the big screen at Cinema Nouveau was a dream come true.

I had wanted to see the show, which has been the hottest ticket in London for the past five years, since it first opened, so the news that it was to be broadcast as part of the National Theatre Live season was a gift for me and other theatre goers.

But there is even better news. War Horse will make its South African première at Montecasino’s Teatro in Johannesburg in October and November, and at Artscape in Cape Town in December.

The show is being brought to SA by Pieter Toerien, Rand Merchant Bank and The National Theatre of Great Britain, in association with Cape Town’s Handspring Puppet Company, which has created the extraordinary puppets used in the production.

War Horse has been seen by nearly five million people worldwide since opening at the National Theatre in 2007.

During its successful run on Broadway, it received five Tony Awards, as well as a special Tony Award for Handspring Puppet Company.

It was also the longest running show in Toronto, recently toured Australia, is in its sixth successful year in London’s West End, on a major tour of North America, is running in Berlin, and is on a sell-out tour of the United Kingdom and Ireland.

A new production will open in Amsterdam in June and tour the Netherlands.

“I fell in love with War Horse when it first opened at the National Theatre in London nearly seven years ago,” Toerien said.

“The brilliant actors and the genius of the Handspring Puppet Company made War Horse an absolutely extraordinary evening in the theatre. I was determined to bring it to our audience, so a dream is about to come true for me.”

War Horse, which has been adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford from Michael Morpurgo’s book of the same name, tells the the powerful story of a young boy called Albert and his beloved horse, Joey, who is requisitioned to fight for the British in World War I.

Caught in enemy crossfire, Joey ends up serving on both sides during the war, before being caught in the barbed wire in no-man’s land.

Meanwhile, Albert, who is not old enough to enlist, lies about his age and embarks on a treacherous mission to find his horse and take him home.

It is a remarkable tale of courage, loyalty and friendship, and one of the most magical theatrical experiences I’ve ever been privileged to watch.

The reason is quite simple: the puppets made by Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler and their team at the Handspring Puppet Company, which bring Joey and his closest equine friend, Topthorn, to vivid life.

These two horses breathe, gallop, toss their heads, rear, swish their tails, and even though the three puppeteers in each animal are visible at all times, you simply don’t “see” them. It is theatre magic at its very best.

The staging of War Horse is also remarkably simple. The stage is bare of props, except those brought on by the actors themselves, for example, poles that become in turn a stable, a pen or a field.

The rear of the stage is dominated by a backdrop that echoes a piece of paper torn by Albert from a sketch book. Into this jagged space are beamed images of battlefields, sleepy English villages and a horse and boy galloping across the fields.

I also loved the singing narration of the story and a puppet goose who steals every scene he appears in.

If you can, try to catch the remaining two National Theatre Live screenings of War Horse at Cinema Nouveau Gateway in Umhlanga at 7.30 pm tonight and tomorrow. But, do yourselves a favour and book to see the real thing too. I have and I can’t wait.

Estelle Sinkins

• War Horse will be staged at the Teatro de Montecasino in Johannesburg from October 22 to November 30, and at Artscape Opera in Cape Town from December 5 to January 4, 2015.

Tickets range from R100 to R450 at Computicket. Alternatively, phone the call centre, from Monday to Saturday from 8 am to 8 pm, at 0861 915 8000.

• arts@witness.co.za

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