Imaginative and moving – War Horse, the multi- award winning must see  theatrical event of the decade heralds in the New Year at the Arts Centre.

From the West End to Broadway, War Horse the stage show has been impressing audiences since 2007. Based on a book of the same name by children's author Michael Morpurgo, the story of the remarkable life and adventure of 'war horse' Joey was adapted for the stage by Nick Stafford. Of course, Steven Spielberg directed the highly acclaimed 2011 movie adaptation.

This magnificent drama tells the heart wrenching story of Joey, the beloved horse of a boy called Albert, who is sold to the cavalry at the outbreak of World War I and shipped to France. He’s soon caught up in enemy fire, and fate takes him on an extraordinary odyssey, serving on both sides before finding himself alone in no man’s land. But Albert cannot forget Joey and, still not old enough to enlist, he embarks on a treacherous mission to find him and bring him home.

In this remarkable stage adaptation, South Africa’s Handspring Puppet Company, bring to life breathing, galloping, charging horses. The 33 Australian cast members including actors and puppeteers will create what is promised to be theatrical magic. One of those cast members is renowned Australian actor Ian Bliss. Playing  Albert's father Ted, Bliss acknowledges that one profound  aspect of War Horse is the legacy of generations of fathers and sons. "Both of my Grandfathers fought in World War I (returning home safely but forever altered)," says Bliss. "I think of the relationship between my character Ted and his son Albert and can’t help but reflect on how these father/son relationships in my families were affected when war broke out."

Bliss has been a successful and versatile actor for many years. In fact he  can’t say the acting bug ever bit. It was just always there. "I was born into a family of entertainers," Bliss explains. "My mother was a champion tap-dancer, my father a singer. They met when they were performing together in a show and our family’s circle of friends were entertainers. One of my earliest memories is seeing a show at Her Majesty’s Theatre in Melbourne and then afterwards being taken backstage and onto the set. That view of the auditorium from the stage must have set my career aspirations in motion."

Some may remember his performance in two of the Matrix instalments as well as Underbelly, Blue Murder and Canal Road but Bliss cites his most  challenging role to date as ‘Kingsley’ in Steve Rodger’s play “Savage River”. "It was challenging because I hadn’t done theatre for several years and I wasn’t sure if I was ‘match fit’, as it were. But I was," he states. "It also provided the added challenge and responsibility of bringing Kingsley to life in the world premier of this terrific play. I think it’s a rare privilege to be the first to perform a character, to create a character from scratch with the writer present. It was a joy to breathe life into Kingsley and I will always remain quite attached to the character."

Unlike the demands of  most straight theatrical works, War Horse is a project that has offered many exciting aspects and  challenges to creators, actors and puppeteers. Bliss explains that the most challenging aspect has been to work with the puppets. "As actors and characters we are essentially puppeteers ourselves in the way we interact with and react to the puppets, helping to create their “aliveness” from inanimate wood, metal and wires," he says. "It’s been a rehearsal process that has only really coalesced once we arrived in the theatre.  To fully realize the show once lights, set, score and effects have all been added."

"I always think that it’s a great job when you can arrive at work and from first thing in the morning the room is filled with laughter. The cast, crew and creatives on this project are some of the hardest working, conscientious and disciplined I have ever worked with and also some of the most fun! Throughout the whole process it’s been smiles and japes and never a low moment. It’s a rarity and testament to the director, Drew Barr, gathering such a diverse yet focussed group of top-notch individuals. It’s also testament to Drew’s own fantastic sense of humour."

War Horse has had such a significant and profound affect world wide and, according to Bliss, may in fact instil a  renewed sense of “belief”. "I don’t mean belief in its organized forms such as, religious or political, but personal belief.," he explains. "Belief in oneself. Belief in an outcome. I think that’s what is meant when the critics dubbed the show a 'life affirming experience'."

"I read the play before reading the book. When I read the book I was surprised and delighted to see it was from Joey’s (the horse’s) point of view. That’s a difficult thing to achieve in theatre. It’s still Joey’s journey but the play has fleshed out and expanded on the human characters in the story. It explores some of the great highs and lows of humanity and connects to audiences on a very deep level. I had tears reading the book. I had tears reading the play. Watch closely and you’ll probably, inadvertently, see more tears as the show unfolds."

The Arts Centre. December 31 – February 10
http://www.artscentremelbourne.com.au/whats-on/event.aspx?id=2860
 

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