Last May, “War Horse on Stage” ran a public led interview with the author of the book Michael Morpurgo, with questions by their social media fans read on to discover his writing inspirations and thoughts on the play: www.warhorseonstage.com/latest/michael-morpurgo-qa/
I find it very interesting and his answers made me want to write down some reflections here on my blog…
I regret I never learned to ride, but I always loved horses and tales about them and I think they are noble animals. Morpurgo is right affirming that the relationship between humans and horses can be very deep and worth to be analyzed.
And I enjoy to read interviews by those who work in the showbusiness, because you see their point of view on art and life, plus some aspects of their personality hidden between the lines.
From this interview, Michael Morpurgo seems a nice, clever person.
Nice to read who was the writer’s favorite author when he was growing up and to know that he would have liked to write himself his favorite book, “Treasure Island“. But he’s modest enough to admit he “wouldn’t have written it as well”.
He was also much involved with the stories he wrote, he rode for a bit and knew tales from the First World War from the men of his village, so he could write some of his masterpieces knowing firsthand what really happened.
He was bold enough to give “War Horse” an happy ending, like if the strong friendship between a boy and a horse made a miracle possible. I love this story and I believe it must be great for an actor to play a role in a production! Nice to know that Morpurgo had the occasion to perform on stage as a farmer.
It was a great thing that Steven Spielberg made a movie from “War Horse” and, as far as I know, Morpurgo didn’t seem disappointed by the final result. It also got a good cast that gave justice to the characters.
Anyway, having seen both the movie and the play, and despite is hard not to like the movie, I still prefer the play, for some reasons.
Theatre is always something that catches you with fantasy ad creativity. Several artists join together to set up a show, both cast and creatives.
Then, there are the live performances by actors who use their skills to give life to their characters. With very few exceptions, to see live performances is always the best experience for theatergoers, who will keep remember them. I’ll always regret I didn’t see Luke Treadaway originating the role of Albert in the first 2007 production, but from another role he helped to created, I’m quite sure he gave a terrific performance there.
Not that the movie didn’t require efforts in finding the right actors, horses, extras, costumes, historical material, but of course a story on war requests reality on screen, unless you’re shooting a sci-fi film freely inspired by it. It’s easier, in some way.
It’s different in a theatre. Forget that they could hardly use real horses on stage for hours. It was a question of bringing pages to reality in a more original way. And with new writings we are seeing amazing shows nowadays!
Before to book my ticket, when I heard about the production for the first time, I was wondering how they were going to work out the problem. Sometimes little animals are brought on stage, but just for few minutes. When I saw the first pictures of the puppets on the web I was astonished! I could never imagine that they would use a horse-shaped frame with actors inside!
The movements of the horses are so natural, because all the parts of the body are moved by puppeteers, there must be a great physical training behind it. I particularly love the detail of the eyes, they look wet and sweet like real. You forget that there are performers inside the horses and moving the goose and the other animals.
They also remind me of the ancient Theatre Of Shadows in some way, an even more concise depiction of situations. As Morpurgo says, Joey on stage “is not a pale imitation but rather a wonderful interpretation of the spirit of horse.”
I love Joey and Thopthorn, the two horses with a name in the story. It’s a fact their structure is the most complete and actors get on them for real. The other horses are made of a smaller frame and officers who ride them are puppets, as well. They are silent witness of the madness of humanity, but Joey in particular becomes friend with the people he meets. Those people will never be aware of each other, most of them unfortunately die, but they help Joey to survive until the end of the war.
The dark set design with its simplicity put you in the right mood, it creates a dramatic atmosphere like being in war, where everything is dark, empty, misty and desperate. If it was more detailed, like in a movie, you would miss the action at the centre of the stage. You can’t get the same atmosphere inside a cinema even if you see a film in the dark, as well. And the wonderful music and songs fill the air.
My very favorite scene is when Joey the foal exits and adult Joey enters galloping in front of the audience called by Albert: it wouldn’t have been so glorious on screen as it is on stage!
My other favorite parts are when Cap. Nicholls dies and he’s brought to the ground by shadows (what a gripping scene, it gives you shivers!), the scenes with the German officer Friedrich Müller and when the German and the British soldiers save Joey from the barbed wire fence. I like that Morpurgo sees all the good characters like equal, like Joey sees them.
And I’m fond of the goose, that looks like one of those ducks with wheels I used to play with when I was a child. It’s exhilarating: each time it tries to enter home, it loses feathers and gives the audience a good laugh and some relief from the saddest scenes!
Even the poster of the play is better to me: it could be less epic than the movie poster, but it’s more effective, as we see the tragedy of war and the whole story through Joey’s eyes.
“War Horse on Stage” went so far! Now there are productions around the world: U.S., Canada, Germany, Japan, Africa so is more than a typical British tale. It’s universal.
So if I could ask Morpurgo a question or two myself, they would be: “Aren’t you proud that your novel went so far and became universal and that today is performed on stage in other languages? And is not about time to bring it to Italy, too?”
I’m so curious on what his answers would be!