Sunday, January 10, 2010

On Stage In London: "War Horse" Lets Four-Legged Friends Lead Wartime Drama

By: Frank DiLella

Giant equine puppets share the stage with people in London's new wartime drama "War Horse." NY1's Frank DiLella filed the following On Stage report.

The horse is man's best friend in the epic theatrical event "War Horse," currently onstage in London's West End at the New London Theatre. Based on Michael Morpurgo's 1982 novel, "War Horse" tells the story of a young man, Albert, and his beloved horse Joey during the outbreak of World War I.

Robert Emms plays the role of Albert.

"Joey is a symbol for Albert. He's never had friends, really. He's never had any close relationships, other than with his mother. He finds this thing that the horse represents, whatever it is, and it connects to him," says Emms. "They have this emotional bond. It just so happens it's a horse. And then they both go to war."

Sharing the spotlight with Emms are multiple puppets that depict horses and other animals. The horses are operated onstage by three puppeteers.

Toby Olie controls the head of Joey, the lead horse in the show.

"The head's brilliant because you're in charge of the emotional indicators of the horse- the ears, the eyes, the breathing - the sound of the breath," says Olie. "And you're in closer contact with humans than if you're the hind legs."

While the horses may only be puppets, Olie says that an extensive amount of research went into creating the horses for the stage.

"The biggest thing for me was seeing the differences between military and domestic horses, and our puppets have met both [kinds of] horses as well," says Olie. "Domestic horses are really chill and relaxed.... They're used to seeing strangers. While military horses are so drilled and routined that as soon as this weird horse-looking thing that smelled like humans but moved like a horse appeared, they were sizing up their back legs to try to kick us and really were spooked. You instantly see different personalities in horses, and it influences my choices with Joey."

"War Horse" has an open-ended run in the West End and will most likely transfer to our shores within the next two years. There is also talk of "War Horse" galloping onto the silver screen under the direction of Steven Spielberg.

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