Melbourne is in for a treat. After packed houses in New York, London and Toronto, War Horse, the winner of 5 Tony Awards, including a special award for the Handspring Puppet Company, multiple Olivier Awards, Evening Standard Awards, Circle Awards, popular choice and critic’s awards, is coming to Melbourne this December.
Nearly two million people have seen it worldwide and now it is Australia’s turn to behold the magic of young Albert and his beloved horse, Joey. Set to the backdrop of World War I, War Horse tracks Joey and Albert across the battlefields on their quest to be reunited exploring loss, love, family, war, courage and the ties that bind us together. Joey is sold to the cavalry and taken to France where fate takes him on an extraordinary odyssey wherein he serves on both sides of the war before ending up alone in 'no man's land'. Albert, who cannot forget his horse, and not yet old enough to enlist, sets out on a quest to find him and bring him home.
Forget what you’ve heard about the film (though it did get six Oscar nominations), this production is the real deal. The excitement surrounding the show is phenomenal; rave reviews everywhere it goes, five stars from all the big publications with the Sunday Times UK calling it “the theatre event of the decade”. With all that in mind, it certainly has a lot to live up to. But believe the hype, Melbourne. From what we witnessed of Joey (the horse), War Horse is set to rock the theatre scene with sold out shows, tears and a marketing campaign to rival the F1. Already scores of cameramen, photographers and reporters are lining up for their glimpse of the magic.
What makes this show so incredible is its perfect combination of action, adventure and heart; it is “a life affirming story about friendship, courage and family, which appeals to all ages” (Chris Harper, Producer). The show is a flawlessly executed example of suspending the audience’s disbelief. The horses are comprised of steel, leather, aircraft cables, cane and stretched georgette, but what brings them to life are three actors (per horse) who together become something incredible to watch. The philosophy behind bringing the puppets to life is the breath. The horse rises and falls with each intake, it pants, snorts, trots, gallops and shies away when frightened. They are mesmerising works of art that are sure to captivate even the most sceptical audience member.
Ted Baillieu said, upon announcing that the show was coming, that “it is a great honour for Melbourne” and he’s right. This show is selling better than most musicals on Broadway and by all accounts should perform to sell out houses in Australia. It is a remarkable feat of ingenuity, international collaboration and a testament to the world that theatre is strong and more alive than ever, providing audiences around the world with a chance to share something special and something that no other medium can recreate in such a way.
The secret to the show's success lies in its ability to capture the very spirit of theatre. The audience is invited to be part of something big, a fantasy, like children who play make-believe who together forget everything else around them and are transported to another world. At the heart of this production, amid the splendid lighting, set and costumes (all of which are incredible and have been deservedly awarded) are dynamic actors who are dedicated to telling a story, one that “awakens something in you” (Chris Harper).
While the show doesn’t open until December (though mostly running through January and into February) tickets will be going on sale Monday 23 and my recommendation is get in quick. This is accessible theatre, it is emotional theatre, it has animals and young children, war and family; it is a rare and wonderful occasion where everything lines up and something truly marvellous is created. I am not prone to hyperbole so I can safely say this is going to be one of the most spectacular theatrical events Melbourne has seen in a long time.
We will in time hear more about War Horse, no doubt, as the advertising and media creeps into our every day life, but from what I’ve seen, it’s worth letting yourself get caught up in the hype. It really is a production that appeals to all demographics and one that we are lucky enough to host in Melbourne. Get ready and get taken along for the ride.
War Horse is a collaboration between the National Theatre in Great Britain and Global Creatures, coming to Australia in association with Arts Centre Melbourne; the puppets were created by the Handspring Puppet Company.
Previews; Sunday 23 December to Sunday 30 December
Season; Wednesday 2 January – Sunday 10 February
Tickets on Sale; Monday 23 April
Prices: $79.90 – $129.90
Bookings: www.artscentremelbourne.com.au or 1300 182 183
www.ticketmaster.com or 136 100