National Theatre brings ‘Warhorse’ to Bord Gáis Theatre
Sarah King and Amanda Gallagher, from Loreto College St Stephen’s Green, with Joey, the life-size equine puppet from the National Theatre’s production of War Horse, operated by puppeteers Jack Parker, Stuart Angel and Mikey Brett. Photograph: Alan Betson
The suspension of disbelief is almost instant as Joey the war horse, a collection of bentwood bamboo and camouflaged chestnut-coloured canvas mounted on an aluminium frame, is put through his paces on the plaza in front of Dublin’s Bord Gáis Energy Theatre.
Joey walks, trots, paws the ground and stamps his hooves when irritated. He rears up on command, puffs and snorts, and swishes his tale. His head swivels around, his ears and neck twitching. He is utterly believable thanks to the efforts of puppeteer actors Jack Parker (Joey’s head), Stuart Angell (his front quarters) and Mikey Brett (the rear).
“The horse’s breath is what connects the puppeteers,” said puppetry director Jimmy Grimes of England’s National Theatre, whose production of War Horse will be in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre for a month from next March 26th.
Based on the 1982 children’s book, War Horse, by English author Michael Morpurgo, it tells the story of the relationship between a boy named Albert and his horse Joey, which is taken into the British army during the first World War, and of Albert’s efforts to find him and take him home.
The story was turned into a play in 2007. After seeing it, director Stephen Spielberg made an acclaimed movie of the same name in 2011. Basil Jones and Adrian Kohler of the Handspring Puppet Company of Cape Town, South Africa, created the puppet for the play but for every performance, he must be brought to life by actors.
The instant the actors donned Joey yesterday, they were in character. They and Grimes treated Joey like a real animal. “An awful lot of research goes into observing real horses . . . it is the micro-movements of the animal, all the little individual movements that, when put together, create a living horse on stage,” said Grimes.
War Horse, an extraordinary theatrical achievement, looks absolutely magical.